Monday, December 30, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 41: Islanders at Capitals, December 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The curtain comes down on the 2019 portion of the season, and the Caps wrap up the first half of their regular season schedule when they host the New York Islanders on New Year’s Eve in a matinee matchup at Capital One Arena.  The Caps will be looking to extend their home winning streak to four games, one short of their season high, while the Islanders try to extend their own run of success on the road (4-1-0 in their last five road games).

Then and Now…

This will be the 220th meeting of these teams in the all-time series.  Washington has a 110-90-6 (13 ties) record against the Isles, 56-39-3 (11 ties) at home.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 33-18-6 against the Islanders overall, 16-9-3 in Washington.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The Islanders are not a young team by today’s NHL standards.  At the start of the season they were the third-oldest, by average age, in the league, the average age of the roster being almost a year and a half older than the league average.  That makes Martin Barzal, the second youngest Islander to dress for at least five games this season (Anthony Beauvillier is 13 days younger) a critical part of the team’s present and future.  Barzal, who leads the team in goals in December (six), is already in his fourth season with the team at age 22.  The Calder Trophy winner as top rookie in his first full season (2017-2018) is on a pace to establish a career high in goals.  With 16 goals in 37 games he is on a pace to finish with 35, which would be well clear of the 22 he posted in his Calder-winning rookie season.  The odd part about his scoring line, though, is the lack of assists.  He had 17 in 37 games, putting him on a pace for 38 helpers, which would be a career low for Barzal.

If anything, he has picked his goal scoring a bit in recent games.  Over his last 14 contests he has seven goals (a 41-goal pace), but that comes with a 22.6 percent shooting percentage.  As a foundational component of the Islander attack, his contributions matter.  New York is 18-3-2 in the 23 games in which he recorded at least one point, 6-7-1 in the 14 games in which he was held off the score sheet.  Odd Barzal Fact… While he is not a prolific shooter (his 80 shots on goal rank fourth on the team this season), he is a consistent one.  Barzal has posted at least one shot on goal in 34 of 37 games overall, and only once – November 25th against Anaheim – did he fail to record a shot on goal in a road game.  Barzal is 1-4-5, minus-5, in 10 career games against the Caps.

Jordan Eberle sits square in the middle of the age range of the Islanders at age 29.  Unfortunately for the Isles, he does not occupy a similar position in the stat sheets so far this season, at least insofar as goal scoring is concerned.  After posting a total of 44 goals and 96 points in his first two seasons with the club after coming over from Edmonton in a trade for Ryan Strome in June 2017, Eberle has three goals in 27 games so far this season and has missed ten games to a lower body injury, his longest absence to injury since missing 13 games to a shoulder injury in 2015-2016.  His season started slowly with no goals in his first 14 games.  Then, after potting a pair of goals against Detroit in a 4-1 win to open December, he has only one goal in his last 12 games, although he is setting up others with nine assists in that span.

Eberle occupies an odd and obscure place in Capitals history.  He was taken 22nd overall in the 2008 Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.  The Capitals passed on him with the pick immediately preceding that one, opting instead for Anton Gustafsson, who would become the second of three skaters taken in the first round that year not to appear in an NHL game (Kyle Beach, taken 11th overall by Chicago; and Daultan Leveille, taken 29th overall by Atlanta, were the others).  Eberle is second in his draft class in goals scored (212, to Steven Stamkos’ 407) and third in points (495, to 801 for Stamkos and 591 for Erik Karlsson). Eberle is 1-5-6, minus-9, in 18 career games against Washington.

At some point, one would think the Islanders are going to have to decide which of their goaltenders will be their number one netminder.  So far, though, that choice seems to have been pushed to the back burner.  The Isles have divided the starts almost down the middle so far, Semyon Varlamov getting 19 starts and Thomas Greiss getting 18 starts.  Varlamov’s numbers are slightly better, but not so much so that he has put distance between himself and Greiss in the race for number one.  His goals against average is better (2.40 to 2.58), but his save percentage (.920) is almost indistinguishable from Greiss’ (.919).  Varlamov has the only shutout posted by an Islander goalie this season, a 1-0 win over Buffalo on November 2nd.  What Varlamov has not done is lose, at least not often in regulation.  He has only three losses in regulation in 19 decisions (13-3-3), while Greiss had seven regulation losses in 18 decisions (11-7-0).

If you are looking for the hot goalie, it is not Greiss.  After going 9-1-0 (one no decision), 2.07, .934 in his first 11 appearances, he is 2-6-0, 3.49, .896 in his last eight appearances.  He is 3-3-1, 2.15, .927, with one shutout in seven career games against the Capitals.  On the other hand, Varlamov is 6-0-1 (four no-decisions), 2.07, .930 in his last 11 appearances.  He is 3-5-1, 2.45, .932 in nine career appearances against Washington.

1.  Only the Caps have a better points percentage in road games this season (.750) than the Islanders (.639) among Eastern Conference teams.

2.  The Isles certainly haven’t done it on the road with offense.  They have 45 goals in 18 road contests to date, fifth-fewest goal total on the road in the league.  On the other hand, New York’s 2.44 goals allowed per game is fewest on the road in the league this season.

3.  The Islanders have scored only ten first period goals on the road this season.  Only Florida has scored fewer (nine, in two fewer games).  At the other end, no team has allowed fewer third period goals on the road than the Isles (12, tied with Colorado).

4. New York protects leads effectively on the road.  They are 4-0-0 when leading at the first intermission of road games, 7-0-0 when leading after two periods, the only team in the league with perfect records when leading at either intermission on the road.

5.  The Islanders have yet to lose a game on the road this season by one goal in regulation, one of four teams not to do so (New Jersey, St. Louis, and San Jose are the others).

1.  The Caps’ last three losses to the Islanders in Washington have been by shutout – 3-0 in December 2016, 2-0 last January, and 3-0 last April.

2.  Washington has the second-best penalty killing rate in the league on home ice (88.0 percent, trailing only San Jose with 91.1 percent).

3.  Winning in the NHL when falling behind is tough, but the Caps are better than most in doing so.  The Caps and Boston are the only teams in the league ranking in the top-five in winning percentage when trailing after one period and trailing after two periods on home ice.

4.  Washington is one of five teams that has not yet lost a game in regulation when scoring first on home ice with a record of 6-0-3 (Toronto, St. Louis, Buffalo, and Dallas are the others).  No team has more wins when trailing first on home ice than the Caps (five, tied with Toronto, Calgary, Pittsburgh, and the Islanders).

5.  The Caps have the second highest penalties taken per 60 minutes on home ice in the league (4.30), trailing only Ottawa (4.33).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Johnny Boychuk

If it seems that Johnny Boychuk has been in the league since before helmets were mandatory, it only seems that way.  If you need a frame of reference as to where his NHL career got its start, he was drafted by Colorado in the second round of the 2008 Entry Draft, 61st overall and two spots ahead of where the Caps selected Tomas Fleischmann, who last played in the NHL in 2015-2016.  Boychuk is in his 13th NHL season and will dress for his 700th NHL game as soon as Saturday in Toronto (he has 697 games played).  Later this season he is likely to become the 16th defenseman in Islanders history to dress for 400 games (he has 376 games played with New York).

Boychuk has never been a big offensive producer; he has only one season with more than 25 points, that coming in his first year with the Islanders in 2014-2015 (9-26-35).  But he has logged hard minutes, evidenced by the fact that in 12 seasons preceding this one he dressed for more than 70 games only four times.  In six seasons with the Islanders, Boychuk has missed 71 of 447 games, more than 15 percent of the schedule.

This season, Boychuk has missed only one game to date, but his minutes are down, perhaps a concession to the fact that he is the oldest defenseman on the roster by more than seven years at 35 years old (Nick Leddy is 28).  Odd Boychuk Fact… The Islanders have perfect records on the rare occasions when Boychuk did not record a credited hit (3-0-0) or a blocked shot (4-0-0).  He is 3-5-8, plus-2, in 34 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Jonas Siegenthaler

The development of defensemen is sometimes one requiring patience, but Jonas Siegenthaler is giving some signs that he might be a bigger offensive contributor than one might have projected.  As a rookie last season, he posted four points (all assists) in 26 games.  He opened this season with two assists in his first 17 games before recording his first NHL goal (against Vegas) in his 18th contest.  Less than three weeks later, he had his first multi-point game in the NHL, recording a pair of assists in a win over the Florida Panthers.  He went his next nine games without a point, but he is 1-2-3, plus-3, over his last five games heading into the contest with the Islanders.

If there is an odd feature about his game, it is in the difference between his home and road profiles this season.  He is more active in road games than home games to date.  In 22 road games he has skated 454 shifts, 100 more than he has recorded in 18 home games (354), and he is averaging more than 17 minutes per game on the road (17:13) compared to 15:57 per game on home ice.  He has been slightly more productive offensively on home ice, but not significantly so, going 1-4-5, plus-4, in 18 home games and 1-2-3, plus-5, in 22 road contests.  His goal on home ice is his only game-winner to date, coming in the Caps’ 5-2 win over Vegas on November 9th.  With another multi-point game, Siegenthaler would become the fifth Capital defenseman to hit double digits in points this season, matching the number they had last season.  In three career games against the Islanders he does not have a point and has a minus-1 rating.

In the end…

With a win in regulation, the Caps would carry a ten-point division lead over the second-place Islanders into the new year.  How big would that be?  If the Caps were to win only half of the remaining points on their schedule (41 in 41 games), they would finish with 102 points.  The Islanders would need 51 points in their last 44 games to tie the Caps.  That would not be a pace far off the 51 points in 38 games they would finish with in the 2019 portion of the schedule.  A 28th win in 41 games would be the second highest win total for the Caps at the 41-game mark in team history, trailing only the 2015-2016 team that had 31 wins after 41 games.  We doubt the team thinks about such things, but it that would not diminish the accomplishment for this year’s club, and it would be especially welcome at the expense of a division rival.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 13

It is an unlucky number, or at least “13” was for the Caps.  Week 13 was the first week this season in which the Caps had a losing week, a week with a points percentage under .500.  And frankly, it could have been worse but for a rookie goaltender who gave the Caps a chance for a comeback to earn the two points they posted for the week.

Record: 1-2-0

Until Week 13, the Caps went 22 weeks dating back to last season with one inconsequential week in which they failed to earn half the standings points available to them (1-2-0 in the last week of the 2018-2019 regular season).  Over that span, the Caps were 47-15-7, the most wins in the league and the second-highest point total over that span (101), trailing only the St. Louis Blues (102), who played one more game over that period.

But then there was Week 13, and for the Caps it was ugly, by their standards.  Two multi-goal losses brought the total of multi-goal losses for the season to seven.  While that is still the second-fewest number of multi-goal losses this season (Boston has four), it is seven multi-goal losses among eight losses in regulation this season.  The opening game of the week, a 7-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, was the Caps’ sixth loss this season by three or more goals.  At week’s end, that was more losses by three or more goals than eight other teams, a surprising result given that the Caps were tied for the second-fewest number of regulation losses this season (seven, with St. Louis).

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.50/4th)

The Caps spread things around on offense in Week 13. That is the good news.  Eight different players accounted for the total of nine goals for the week.  The trouble was, seven of them recorded a single goal.  Alex Ovechkin was the only player to post two goals for the week, bringing his career total to 682, two short of Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time list of NHL goal scorers.

As much who did score goals, the problem was who did not.  Jakub Vrana was blanked for the week, bringing his streak of games without a goal to nine.  It might be a sign of his importance to the Capitals’ offensive scheme that in those nine games, the Caps are only 5-4-0.  It is worth noting in that context that the Caps have not lost a game in regulation in which Vrana scored a goal this season (9-0-2).

The Caps had 15 skaters record at least one point in Week 13, Brendan Leipsic and Nick Jensen the only players dressing for all three games who did not record a point.  Ovechkin (2-1-3) and John Carlson (0-3-3) led the team with three points apiece, while seven other Caps contributed two points apiece.  They just could not outscore the shortcomings at the other end.  Ten of those 15 skaters finished the week with minus ratings, four of them with minus-5 or worse: Ovechkin (minus-7), T.J. Oshie (minus-7), Lars Eller (minus-6), and Nicklas Backstrom (minus-5).  The painful part of that was that the Caps dominated shot totals for the week, averaging 11 more shots on goal per game (35.7) than the three opponents (24.7), the third-highest shot differential in the league for the week.

Defense: 4.67/game (season: 2.90/11th)

Those 24.7 shots allowed per game by the Caps was the lowest in the league for the week, dropping them to 30.2 shots allowed per game for the season, seventh-fewest in the league at the end of the week.  They held all three opponents under 30 shots, extending their streak of games holding opponents under 30 shots to seven, their longest streak of the season and the longest such streak in more than three years, since they had a seven-game streak in Games 2-8 in the 2016-2017 season.

The shot attempts allowed were good and bad.  Even in the same game.  For instance, there was the opening game of the week in which the Caps allowed the Boston Bruins only 17 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the low in attempts allowed for the season for Washington and the low in attempts made by Boston for the season.  On the other hand, this might be explained away as score effects, the Bruins jumping out to a 4-0 first period lead and coasting in from there.  The Caps did have a plus-29 attempt advantage in that game when trailing.

The Caps did finish the week plus-34 in 5-on-5 shot attempts, but almost all of it (plus-32) came with the Caps trailing in games.  The Caps were “even” in shot attempt differential when leading, but that was the product of no shot attempts for or against when leading, the Caps only lead of the week coming when they scored in overtime to beat Columbus in the middle game of the week.

Goaltending: 3.66 / .845 (season: 2.72 / .908)

Week 13 was a tale of two goaltenders that one can think of in terms of it being one chapter in a story that spans the season.  And in this chapter one could not help but harbor a sense of foreboding.  Ilya Samsonov got the middle game of the week, and but for his effort, stopping 27 of 28 shots in 63 minutes of work, it would have been a winless week for the Caps.  That he won on home ice was a bit unusual, it being only his fifth start on home ice among his 12 starts this season.  Nevertheless, it was the seventh time in 12 starts that the rookie netminder allowed two or fewer goals.  He finished the week with the second-highest number of wins among rookie goalies (10, trailing New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood with 11) and the best goals against average (2.28) and save percentage (.918) among rookie goalies appearing in five or more games.

For Braden Holtby, one had to think of a glass being half full or half empty.  The half empty part was that it was an awful week for the veteran.  An 0-2-0 record, 6.78 goals against average, .769 save percentage, and he was pulled after one period against Boston.  It extended his slump to four games, over which he is 1-3-0, 4.01, .851.  The glass half-full way of thinking about this is that the recent struggle is reminiscent of how he ended the 2017-2018 regular season in which he posted a record of 6-6-0, 3.67, .881 in his last 12 appearances before sitting to begin the first two games of the postseason in favor of Philipp Grubauer.  Caps fans will remember that he turned things around quite effectively after that.  Still, one cannot help but wonder if his pending free agency isn’t at least having some effect, even on a subconscious level, on his play.

Power Play: 3-for-15/20.0 percent (season: 21.6 percent/11th)

Getting 15 power play chances in three games was a good thing.  It was the highest volume of power play chances the Caps have enjoyed in any week so far this season.  The three power play goals matched the second-highest output of man advantage goals for a week, topped only by the four power play goals they scored in Week 2.

That, however, is where the good news ended.  Two shorthanded goals allowed left the Caps with a net plus-1 in goal differential on their own power play, a “net” power play efficiency of 6.7 percent.  Those two shorthanded goals allowed doubled the total for the Caps this season and dropped them to 12th place in net power play (18.4 percent) for the season.

The Caps managed 30 shots on goal on the man advantage in 26:53 of power play ice time.  The shots were spread around, Alex Ovechkin finishing with eight (one goal), Evgeny Kuznetsov with six (one goal), and T.J. Oshie with four (one goal) along with Lars Eller.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-11/72.7 percent (season: 84.7 percent/3rd)

More than the “how many” was the “when” with respect to the penalty kill and the goals allowed in Week 13.  The Caps opened the week allowing a power play goal to the Boston Bruins in the sixth minute of their game, and then they allowed another with 63 seconds left in the first period to fall behind, 4-0, a hole too deep out of which to climb. 

The Caps did the same thing to open their game against Carolina, allowing the game’s first goal on a power play in the 11th minute to give the Hurricanes a lead they would never relinquish, despite the Caps shaving a two-goal Carolina lead to one goal three times before losing, 6-4.  The timing of failure on the penalty kill, as much as anything else, contributed to the losing week.

Then there is the sheer volume of shorthanded situations faced.  Week 13 was the tenth week in 13 that the Caps went shorthanded ten or more times.  No team in the league at week’s end was shorthanded more often than the Caps for the season overall (144).  That the Caps allowed only 22 goals when shorthanded (tied for 12th fewest) might be seen as a victory in the face of self-inflicted damage.

The Caps’ penalty killers did an adequate job of minimizing shots, allowing only eight shots on goal in 15:57 of shorthanded ice time.  However, three goals on eight shots more or less negated the effects of low shot volumes.

Faceoffs: 87-for-174/50.0 percent (season: 49.5 percent/21st)

It was a weird week in the circle for the Caps.  They finished the week at exactly 50 percent overall.  They also finished at exactly 50 percent in each of the three zones.  Individually, Lars Eller was the only Capital with ten or more total draws taken to finish 50 percent or better in all three zones, while Nicklas Backstrom was the only Capital to top 50 percent in only one of the three zones for the week (66.7 percent in the defensive end).

Goals by Period:

Ugly starts make for ugly finishes, and that certainly was the case for the Caps in Week 13.  Outscored 5-0 in the first periods of games, three empty net goals in the third periods of games made for book ends to a week that resembled gargoyles.  The Caps did outscore opponents by a 6-4 margin in the third periods and overtime for the week, but only the two goals scored against Columbus – one in the third period, the other in overtime – were of consequence, the other four being cosmetic (two against Boston) or reflecting frustration (two against Carolina to try to cut into a lead they always fell just short of eliminating).  It left the Caps with an odd pattern at week’s end.  There is the ten-goal progression through the periods in goals scored – 35 in the first, 45 in the second, 55 in the third (the last being most in the league), but allowing 43 third period goals when they allowed only 35 in each of the first two periods is something that merits attention.


The Caps slipped a bit in the year-to-year comparisons, but this year’s team still maintains a healthy edge over last year’s squad in most respects after 40 games.  If there is something odd about this comparison at this point it is the disconnect between outcome and the underlying numbers.  The Caps have realized a net 164 shot improvement (year to year differences in shots versus shots allowed) and a net 189 attempt improvement in shot attempts at 5-on-5, but the scoring, for and against, does not reflect the improvement, the Caps being only plus-2 at this point in goals scored over the same point last year and only a plus-2 in goals allowed, year-over-year.

In the end…

Over an 82-game season there will be ups and downs, ebbs and flows.  The Caps slipped a bit in the week just completed, but they remain a formidable team, both in the context of this year’s competition around the league and in comparison with themselves a year ago.  They have had to deal with injury and illness over the last week, but these are issues any team is going to have to face over the 82-game schedule.  That the Caps have completed almost half of their regular season schedule without losing consecutive games in regulation speaks to the strength, depth, and resilience of this team, virtues that will be tested as the team moves into the new year.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 1.19, .938)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (2-1-3, 19 shots, 33 shot attempts, passed Teemu Selanne for third place all-time in career power play goals (256))
  • Third Star: John Carlson (0-3-3, 26:43 average ice time, became first defenseman in 25 years to record 50 points in 40 or fewer games (Paul Coffey, 50 points in 40 games in 1994-1995))

Captain rates the week…

One pupper

Monday, December 23, 2019

'Twas the Night Before Capsmas...

And now, we remember a piece we did at this time ten years ago and update it to leave you to your holiday cheer and with a verse or two for the boys…

Twas the night before Christmas, when all ‘round the rink
Not a creature was stirring, you could hear yourself think.
The stockings were hung by the lockers with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The Cappies were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Stanley Cups danced in their heads.
With the boys dressed in warmups, and wearing their caps,
They’d just settled in for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the ice there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the tunnel I flew like a flash,
Knocked over some sticks and fell with a crash.

The lights in the arena on the new sheet of ice
Gave the lustre of mid-day, it was oh, very nice.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Brendan! now, T.J.! now, Nicky and Kuzy!
On, Willy! On, Sammi! on, Kempny and Ovie!
To the top of the glass! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As players that before the wild Hurricanes fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the roof-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the slate
The prancing and pawing of each little skate.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the stairs St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like Don Cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the stairs he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Have a happy holiday, Caps fans...we'll see you next weekend.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 38: Capitals at Bruins, December 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

‘Twas the day before the day before Christmas, and that means one last game for the Washington Capitals before settling in for a four-day winter nap.  The Caps will visit Boston on Monday night to take on the Bruins.  This will be the last game of the three-game regular season series between the teams, and the Caps will be looking to win for the third time, taking the first two matchups by identical 3-2 scores, the first in Boston in a Gimmick on November 16th and then in Washington on December 11th.

Then and Now…

This will be the 163rd meeting of these teams in the all-time series.  Washington has a 64-69-8 (21 ties) record against the B’s, 30-38-4 (nine ties) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 32-12-7 against the Bruins overall, 15-7-3 In Boston.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

David Krejci has spent most, if not all of his 14 season career in the NHL skating in the shadow of fellow Bruins.  But when he takes the ice on Monday against the Capitals, he will play in his 882 career game, all with Boston, passing Rick Middleton for eighth place on all-time Bruins list of games played.  He is likely to pass Terry O’Reilly (891 games) for seventh place shortly after the new year.  He has done by showing up and giving a  consistent effort more than with flash.  He has only four seasons with 20 or more goals (a high of 23 twice), has 50 or more assists in three seasons (a high of 53 last year), and posted more than 70 points twice (73 twice, including last season).  In addition to his high ranking in games played for the B’s, he is a top-20 player on the all-time list of goals scorers (201/19th), assists (466/eighth), points (667/ninth), plus-minus (plus-129/20th), power play goals (46/20th), and game-winning goals (39/11th).

Through 33 games this season, Kreici is hitting just about all of his career per-game output on the nose.  His goals per game is equal to his career number (0.23 this year/0.23 career), assists are up slightly (0.55/0.53), and his points are up a bit (0.77/0.76). He has been more efficient in his shooting, posting seven goals on 43 shots, that 16.3 shooting percentage several points higher than his career 12.5 mark, and in fact on pace to be the best of his career.  He has been an illustration of the importance of secondary scoring this season, the Bruins going 10-2-3 in the 15 games in which he had points.  Ice time might be an issue though.  The Bruins are winless in the four games Krejci skated more than 20 minutes (0-2-2) and are just 7-7-5 in the 19 games in which he logged more than 17:30 in ice time.  Krejci is 9-14-23, minus-10, in 38 career games against Washington.

Sometime just after the calendar turns over, Zdeno Chara will play in his 1,000th game as a Boston Bruin, the sixth player in team history to do so.  That is amazing in itself, but what makes it more noteworthy is that he played in 530 games in the NHL before he arrived in Boston in 2006-2007.  The 1,522 NHL games played that he has going into Monday’s game ranks 19th al-time in the league and sixth all-time among defensemen.  No active defenseman is within 300 games of Chara (Jay Bouwmeester: 1,221).  How much longer he will play in the league, given that he will turn 43 years old in March, is a matter of conjecture, but before this season is over he is likely to be in the top-20 all-time defensemen in goals (he needs three to tie Larry Robinson for 20th place) and top-five in games played (he needs 42 to tie Nicklas Lidstrom).  He could, if feeling especially ornery, challenge the 2,000 penalty minute mark for his career (he needs 72) and become the eighth defenseman in NHL history to hit that mark.  His career plus-minus rating of plus-280 is more than 100 points clear of his closest pursuer among active defensemen (Duncan Keith: plus-156).

Chara has been in an offensive slump recently, posting one point (an assist) in his last dozen games after a stretch in which he was 4-7-11, plus-15 over 15 games.  He is the minutes eater, though, and for a reason.  Nineteen times this season he skated more than 21 minutes, and the Bruins did not lose any of them in regulation (14-0-5).  Chara is 7-19-26, plus-1, in 74 career games against the Caps.

Chances are, you are not going to hear forward Chris Wagner’s name announced on a scoring play.  In 36 games he has three goals an seven points.  But he will announce his presence on the ice.  Among 17 skaters dressing for at least 25 games for the Bruins so far, Wagner leads the club in credited hits per 60 minutes (12.40).  He also averages more than two blocked shots per 60 minutes, painting a picture of a player who contributes by getting his hands dirty more than using them for highlight goals or fancy set-ups. As much as his physical play having a purpose, hockey being a physical game, it has an effect.  In 17 games this season in which Wagner was credited with at least three hits, the Bruins are 9-2-6 (three of the extra time losses came in the trick shot competition).  In the nine games in which he had one or no hits, Boston is 4-5-0.

1.  No team has earned more standings points on home ice than the Bruins. They have 32 points to 30 for Pittsburgh.

2.  On the other hand, no team has more extra time losses on home ice than Boston.  Their eight extra time losses are almost as many on home ice as the next two teams combined, New Jersey (five) and any one of four teams tied with four (Nashville, Toronto, Philadelphia, and the Caps).

3.  Beware the third period in Boston.  The Bruins have the best goal differential in the third period on home ice in the league (plus-15).

4. Boston can give away points late, though.  No team has more extra time losses on home ice when leading after two periods than the Bruins (three).

5.  The Bruins are the only team in the league that has not lost a game in regulation when trailing after one period on home ice (3-0-2).

1.  If the Caps get a lead early on the road, they generally keep it.  Six teams have perfect records when leading after one period on the road, but the Caps have the most wins among them (8-0-0).

2.  With the best record in the league on the road, it probably surprises no one that the Caps have scored more goals on the road (72) than any other team in the league.

3.  The Caps have twice as many wins when outshooting opponents on the road (10) than any other team (four teams have won five times in those situations).

4.  The Caps have taken 77 minor penalties in road games this season, the tied with Anaheim for third-highest total in the league behind Carolina (83) and Minnesota (78).

5.  Washington has the second best shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 in close game situations (plus-55), trailing only Carolina (plus-108).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Patrice Bergeron

He has never dressed for every game in a regular season, but he has more than 1,000 NHL games played (1,056).  He has never had a 35-goal season, but he is well north of 300 goals for his career (334).  He has never had an 80-point season, but he has more than 800 career points (843).  He is not generally thought of as a big power play producer, but he has exactly 100 career power play goals. 

It is not the offense that Patrice Bergeron brings that sets him apart from most NHLers, at least not just the offense.  It is the complete game, perhaps the most complete set of skills in one player in this era.  Defense?  He is a four-time Selke Trophy winner as top defensive forward and was named a finalist on four other occasions.  If you are counting, he’s been a finalist for that trophy in each of the last eight seasons.  He is a “gentlemanly” player, receiving votes for the Lady Byng Trophy in each of the last 11 seasons.  He is perhaps the best practitioner in the art of faceoffs in this era, his career 57.1 winning percentage tops among all 371 active players who have taken at least 100 draws since Bergeron came into the league in 2003-2004. Among 142 active forwards dressing for at least 100 games, Bergeron ranks tenth in shorthanded ice time per game (2:00), and he is the only player in that group with at least two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game and at least three minutes of power play ice time per game (3:04).  He not only plays in all situations, he flourishes in them. 

Bergeron has been productive in the offensive end this season.  He has 13 goals, 17 assists, and 30 points in 28 games.  His average of 1.07 points per game, if maintained over the entire season, would be his second career season over a point per game (last season he finished with 1.22 points per game in 65 games).  He goes into Monday’s game with points in 15 of his last 18 games (11-11-22), including a four-point game (0-4-4) at home in a 5-4 overtime win against Minnesota on November 23rd.  Bergeron is 12-26-38, minus-12, in 48 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin remains the only forward dressing for more than three games for the Caps this season without a goal.  With the seven games with which he finished last season without a goal, the additional 26 games he has come up empty this season means he drags a 33-game streak without a regular season goal into Monday’s contest.  That’s no goals on 49 shots.  Only he and Frans Nielsen among NHL forwards have taken that many or more shots over that span (since last March 24th) and failed to record a goal.

But players contribute in different ways, and Hagelin has been part of an excellent penalty kill.  In the 26 games in which he has dressed, the Caps penalty kill is 88.5 percent.  In the 11 games he missed to injury, it was only 78.4 percent.  He has been on ice for only four opponents’ power play goals this season while averaging 3:08 in shorthanded ice time per game, tops among forwards and second among all skaters to defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler (3:13).  That lack of offense has not been debilitating for Hagelin.  Another example of that is that the Caps are 5-1-0 in the six games this season in which he did not record a shot on goal.

Still, while Hagelin has not been a prolific goal scorer in his career (his high is 17 with the Rangers in 2014-2015), he has never had fewer than five goals in a season, and that took place last season when he played in only 58 games for three different teams.  Hagelin is 2-3-5, minus-12, in 23 career games against Boston.

In the end…

It is hard to comprehend the hold that the Caps have had over the Bruins over the last five years and change.  Not just overall, where the Caps have a 16-1-0 record over Boston over the last 17 games overall, but in Boston, where the Caps haven’t lost since March 2014 and where they have an eight-game winning streak.  When betting, bet the streak, the saying goes, and those 3-2 scores the Caps posted against the Bruins in the first two games of this season’s series are good enough for us.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 12

Week 12 looked a lot like Week 11 for the Washington Capitals. Three games on the schedule, a loss to Columbus, a win over Tampa Bay.  Replace a win over Boston in Week 11 with a win over New Jersey in Week 12, and it was another winning week for the Caps.

Record: 2-1-0

The Caps posted their tenth winning week of the season in Week 12.  Last season, the Caps did not post their tenth winning week until Week 15.  They have yet to experience a losing week, by percentage of standings points earned.  Compare that to last season, when they Caps had two losing weeks among their first dozen of the season.

Washington extended a couple of odd streaks in Week 12.  On the minus side, they lost to Columbus again, and that makes four straight regular season losses to the Blue Jackets (0-3-1).  Of course, the Caps still have that four-game playoff winning streak against Columbus, so there is that.  In beating the New Jersey Devils in the middle game of the week, the Caps extended their winning streak in the regular season to four games over the Devils, and they are 17-1-2 in their last 20 regular season meeting against New Jersey. 

Beating the struggling Devils is one thing, but the win over Tampa Bay to end the week is a horse of a different color.  The 3-1 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday made it four in a row over the Lightning and gave the Caps a 12-2-3 record over the Bolts in their last 17 regular season meetings. 

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.54/1st)

Balance was the keyword for the Caps in Week 12 more than volume.  Eight players shared in the nine goals scored, Nicklas Backstrom being the only Capitals with a two-goal week.  The week also featured contributions from the defense, four defensemen posting goals – John Carlson, Jonas Siegenthaler, Dmitry Orlov, and Radko Gudas.  For Orlov, it was his second goal in his last 36 games, since Opening Night.  The odd part of that is that both goals, including this week’s in the last game of the week, came against Tampa Bay, the first two goals he has in his career against the Lightning.  Siegenthaler got his first goal on the road in his career with his tally against New Jersey.  For Gudas, his goal against the Lightning was his first as a Capital.

Backstrom also led the team in points for the week (four), one of 14 skaters to record points in Week 12.  Even an interruption in his appearances due to injury has not slowed Backstrom down.  With the four points in three games this week, he is 4-8-12, plus-1, in his last nine games dating back to November 15th.

It would surprise no one that Alex Ovechkin led the team in shots on goal. He did (18), but it was the runners-up that surprised.  Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, and Michal Kempny tied for second-most with eight shots on goal apiece.

The blemish on the week was being shut out by Columbus in the first game of the week.  It was the first time this season that the Caps were shut out and the first time that the Caps were blanked on the road since dropping an identical 3-0 decision to the Blue Jackets in Columbus last February.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.76/8th)

Shot suppression was the feature of Week 12 for the Caps.  They allowed a total of 75 shots on goal to the three opponents and allowed none of them more than 27.  The distinctive part of the total was the detail. The Caps opened the week allowing 14 shots to Columbus in the first period and ended it by allowing 14 shots in the third period to Tampa Bay.  That left a total of 47 shots spread over seven periods of hockey the rest of the week.  It was a suffocating effort.

Unsurprisingly, the Caps dominated the shot attempts at 5-on-5. At plus-45 for the week in shot attempt differential, they were fourth-best in the league, and their 59.4 percent in this category was third-best in the league for the week.  Only three teams allowed fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5 than the Caps (96), and all of them – San Jose, Arizona, and the New York Rangers – played only two games this week.

Goaltending: 2.40 / .908 (season: 2.65 / .912)

It was an effective week in goaltending, for the most part.  That first-minute goal in the third period against Columbus to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead, one of two goals Braden Holtby allowed on only five shots in that period, was the low point of the week.  But he rebounded with a solid 26-save performance against Tampa Bay to close the week in what might have been his best performance so far since Thanksgiving.

Ilya Samsonov got the middle game of the week and continued to impress in his rookie campaign.  The 6-3 win might not have been his best effort of the season (only the second time in seven road games he allowed more than two goals), but he won for the seventh time in seven road decisions, the first Capitals rookie goalie to win his first seven road decisions with the club.

Taken overall, one had to like the netminding of the pair over the first 40 minutes of games, where they combined to stop 43 of 46 shots (.935 save percentage).  The third periods could have been better, the pair stopping 26 of 30 shots (.867).

Power Play: 0-for-8/0.0 percent (season: 21.8 percent/11th)

One of these was bound to sneak in sooner or later.  It just was not a good week for the power play.  No goals on eight chances were most chances in a week without a power play goal since the Caps went 0-for-12 in Week 12 last season.  It was the first time in 12 weeks this season that the Caps failed to record a power play goal.  They were getting shots from the right people, well, Alex Ovechkin (seven shots), but not enough of them – 12 shots on goal in 15:48 in ice time.  The week extends a more lengthy dry spell for the power play unit, which is now just 2-for-23 (8.7 percent) over the last nine games spanning three weeks.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-12/91.7 percent (season: 85.7 percent/2nd)

If the power play has lacked power of late, the penalty kill has been lethal.  That the 91.7 percent penalty kill in Week 12 was the worst in the last three weeks says something.  Most impressive was holding what was the league’s second-best power play of the Tampa Bay Lightning to no goals in seven man advantages, including 1:26 of a 5-on-3 advantage.  Overall, the Caps held the three opponents to just 15 shots on goal in 20:41 of shorthanded ice time.  And, with 11 kills in 12 tries, the Caps are now 31-for-33 over the last three weeks, the best penalty kill in the league in December and the only one at over 90 percent (93.9 percent).

Faceoffs: 88-for-184/47.8 percent (season: 49.5 percent/21st)

It was a uniformly mediocre week in the circle.  The Caps did not win more than 50 percent of their draws in any of the three games (they split 54 faceoffs down the middle with New Jersey), and they were under 50 percent in all three zones, albeit only one faceoff loss under 50 percent in both the offensive and defensive ends.

Nicklas Backstrom held up his end – both ends, actually – in the faceoff circle, leading the team with 59 draws taken and finishing 50 percent or better in all three zones, 52.5 percent overall.  At the other end of Caps taking at least ten draws was Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished 17-for-42 (40.5 percent), but he was over 50 percent in the defensive end in limited chances (4-for-7).

Goals by Period:

The fireworks were largely contained to the third periods of games for the Caps in Week 12, nine of the 16 goals scored overall being registered in the third period, five by the Caps and four for opponents.  The Caps have slowly become a dominating team late in games.  They finished Week 12 as one of only two teams with 50 or more third period goals, their 50 goals trailing only the Nashville Predators (51).

The Caps have been an odd sort of team of late in this category.  On the defensive side, the only teams to allow fewer goals over the first 40 minutes of games than the Caps (13) since Thanksgiving are Toronto (11), and Carolina (12).  On the offensive end, though, no team has scored more goals in the third periods and overtimes of games (20).


The Caps have settled into a profile that resembles last year’s at a similar point in the schedule.  There are important differences, though.  There are of course, the wins (two more than last year through 37 games) and losses (four fewer regulation losses this season).  But underneath that are the shots differential the Caps going from a minus-81 through 37 games last season to a plus-30 this season a net change of plus-111, 3.0 shots per game or one shot on goal per period.  Then there is the penalty kill, which has allowed 11 fewer goals and is more than eight percentage points better in penalty killing efficiency than last season.  Finally, and this might be the most significant change, is the shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5, which have been cut by more than nine percent from this point last year.

In the end…

That the Caps have been as dominant as they have been over as long as they have in regular season games is a temptation to take what they have done, and what they are doing, for granted.  Since 2008-2009, when the Caps had their first 50-win season in the “Rock the Red” era, they have had four 50-win seasons, more than any team in the league in that span.  They have 538 wins in all over that span, more than any in the league.  They are on a pace to continue leading the league in wins over the last dozen season and to post their fifth 50-win season in that period.

It makes a 2-1-0 week seem a bit commonplace, perhaps even disappointing to some Caps fans, especially when the loss came to a struggling team that beat the Caps in consecutive meetings, the Columbus Blue Jackets the only team in 37 games so far to beat the Caps more than once.

But this team has been consistent and entertaining, while piling up wins.  These things should never be taken for granted and should be appreciated as we prepare for the holiday week ahead.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, even, 52.5 percent faceoff wins, 900th career point)
  • Second Star: Dmitry Orlov (1-2-3, plus-3, 1 GWG, 1 shorthanded point, 22:24 average ice time)
  • Third Star: Radko Gudas (1-1-2, even, first goal as a Capital, eight hits, three blocked shots)

Captain rates the week…

Three puppers

Saturday, December 21, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 37: Capitals 3 - Lightning 1

The Washington Capitals returned home from a three-game road trip on Saturday night to host the Tampa Bay Lightning.  It was the third meeting of the teams since November 29th, the final meeting of the teams in this regular season.  The Caps took a lead, withstood a persistent parade to the penalty box, scored late, and added an insurance empty netter while shorthanded to skate away with the sweep of the season series in a 3-1 win.

First Period

The Capitals were the beneficiaries of an early power play, courtesy of the Lightning playing with too many men on the ice.  The Caps had several good looks and managed one shot on goals (Nicklas Backstrom), but Tampa Bay killed off the penalty.

The Caps returned the favor 8:08 into the period when Alex Ovechkin was sent off for hooking.  The Lightning got shots on goal from Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, but neither eluded goaltender Braden Holtby, and the game remained scoreless.

Washington enjoyed its second power play of the game late in the period when Mitchell Stephens was whistled for high-sticking.  The Caps did not score on what would become an abbreviated power play when Tom Wilson was sent off for interference to put the teams at 4-on-4 for 12 seconds before Tampa Bay went on a power play.  Tampa Bay failed to convert the time they had with the man advantage, but they would carry some over into the second period after the first ended scoreless.

-- The Caps out-shot Tampa Bay, 13-6, and out-attempted them, 26-16.

-- It was a big hitting period, by contemporary standards, the Caps with a 15-13 edge in that category.

-- T.J. Oshie won all three faceoffs he took.  The rest of the Caps were 4-for-15 (26.7 percent).

Second Period

The Caps killed off the remaining 47 seconds of shorthanded ice time that carried over into the second period, and the teams continued their scoreless trek.

Washington took the lead in the fifth minute of the period when Lars Eller fed Radko Gudas for a one-timer at the top of the offensive zone that hit defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the jersey logo and ricocheted past goalie Curtis McElhinney into the back of the net, the Caps taking the 1-0 lead at the 4:40 mark.

The Caps got a scare with just over 12 minutes left in the period when T.J. Oshie was cutting down the wing toward the Lightning net.  He was hooked from behind by Nikita Kucherov, causing him to lose his balance and fall forward head first into Mikhail Sergachev.  Oshie crumpled to the ice and remained there for some time before skating off under his own power directly to the locker room.  He appeared to have a cut lip, but the bigger concern was whether Oshie, who has a history of concussions, suffered another.

The Caps went shorthanded in the 13th minute of the period when Garnet Hathaway was charged with a hooking penalty.  The Lightning failed in their third power play of the night, though, and the Caps maintained their one-goal lead.

There would be no more scoring and no more hijinks before the teams went to their respective locker rooms for the second intermission, the Caps still in front, 1-0.

-- Tampa Bay was credited with 31 hits through two periods to 17 for the Caps.

-- Lots of hitting for the Bolts, not much shooting.  The Caps out-shot them, 16-6, in the period (29-12 for the game) and out-attempted them, 27-20 (53-36 for the game).  Tampa Bay had only seven players with shots on goal, and defenseman Victor Hedman had a third of the team’s shots on goal (four).

-- John Carlson led the Caps with 15:27 in ice time through two periods, Richard Panik had the least with 6:00.

Third Period

The Caps had a chance to add some insurance when Jan Rutta was sent to the penalty box on a holding call at the 4:29 mark.  The Caps failed to record a shot on goal in the two-minute advantage, and the score remained 1-0.

The home team paid for failing to convert the power play mid-way through the period.  A pinballing puck between the hash marks found its way to the stick of Nikita Kucherov, and he snapped it over Holtby’s left shoulder into the top corner to make it 1-1 at the 10:00 mark.

Just 35 seconds later, the Caps went short a man, Nick Jensen going off for interference. And then, it got worse.  The Caps went down two men when Lars Eller was nicked for a delay of game/puck over glass call, putting the Caps down two men for 1:26.  The Caps, and in particular Holtby, were up to the challenge, holding off the full power play to keep the game tied.

The Caps were rewarded for their penalty killing prowess at the other end in the 14th minute when Dmitry Orlov took a pass from Jakub Vrana at the left point and sailed a one-timer that appeared to hit Cedric Paquette’s shin pad and ricochet past McElhinney’s blaocker to make it 2-1 at the 13:57 mark.

Things got interesting, though, when Jonas Siegenthaler was charged with a slashing penalty with just 3:48 left to put the Lightning on their sixth power play of the game.  The Lightning gambled and emptied their net for an extra attacker, but it backfired.  Tom Wilson fed Nic Dowd on the right side, who stopped to let Kucherov slide by, then snapped the puck into the open cage to make it 3-1, 17:37 into the period.

With 69 seconds left, the Caps went shorthanded again, John Carlson going off for sending the puck off the rink from the defensive zone.  The Caps ran out the clock on that shorthanded situation and skated off with a season series sweep of the Lightning, 3-1.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps faced seven shorthanded situations in this game and killed all of them, their high for a perfect penalty kill this season.  But it was not the high in shorthanded situations faced.  They killed seven of eight power plays in a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 29th.

-- Going 7-for-7 on the penalty kill was the most shorthanded situations faced without allowing a goal since New Year’s Eve, 2016, when the Caps killed all nine shorthanded situations they faced in a 6-2 win over the New Jersey Devils.

-- Eight different Caps recorded points, Dmitry Orlov the only one with two.  It was his second multi-point game of the season, the other also against Tampa Bay (1-1-2) on November 29th.

-- The Caps out-shot the Lightning, 35-27.  The teams finished even in shot attempts with 65 apiece.

-- Every Capital finished the game with at least one shot on goal except Richard Panik and Brendan Leipsic.  Leipsic was the only Caps player without a shot attempt.

-- T.J. Oshie was the only Capital taking more than one faceoff who finishe over 50 percent, winning five of seven draws (71.4 percent).

-- Braden Holtby allowed one goal on 27 shots.  It was the first time he allowed a single goal in his last eight games (a 2-1 Gimmick loss to Vancouver on November 23rd).  It is the last time he did it in a win in his last 12 games, not since he allowed one in 31 shots in a 2-1 win over Philadelphia on November 13th. 

-- The Caps finished the game with four power play shots on goal and four shorthanded shots on goal.

-- Twelve of the 18 skaters recorded blocked shots, led by Jonas Siegenthaler and John Carlson with three apiece.

-- Garnet Hathaway led the team with three credited hits.

In the end…

It was not a pretty game for either team, but the Caps seem much more comfortable in such contests than do the Lightning.  It served them well, having to skate the back half of a back-to-back set of games and looking a bit fresher than the Lightning by the end of the contest.  The Caps now have one game left before the holiday, but this was a nice game to continue down the home stretch to the break.