Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 65: Capitals at Islanders, March 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hit the road to start the weekend with their first visit to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum since December 2014 to face the New York Islanders in a Metropolitan Matchup that could feature teams tied for the division lead.  That will depend on the Islanders’ contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.  A loss in regulation, and the Isles and Caps would be tied with 79 standings points going into the Friday contest and the top spot in the division on the line (UPDATE: The Islanders thumped the Maple Leafs, 6-1, to take a two-point lead over the Caps into Friday's game).

The Islanders have stumbled of late, losing three of their last four games (1-2-1) going into the Thursday night contest against Toronto.  Their most recent loss, a 3-1 decision against the Calgary Flames, snapped a nine-game points streak on home ice (8-0-1).  Nevertheless, since January 13th, when the Islanders embarked on their current 8-1-1 home record, they have the second-best home record in the league, trailing only the Philadelphia Flyers by two points in two fewer home games played.

Over those ten home games, the Islanders have had incredible goal scoring balance.  Six different players have three goals in those ten games.  Among them, Josh Bailey leads in points (3-6-9).  Bailey does not have the resume of Islander greats of the past, but he is slowly climbing the franchise rankings in a number of categories.  He is sixth in franchise history in games played (777 going into Thursday’s game), 19th in goals scored (138), 12th in assists (286), 14th in points (424), and tied for 20th in game-winning goals (17).  While he lags behind last year’s career-best pace in goals-assists-points (18-53-71), he is still outpacing his scoring averages over his first ten NHL seasons.  Over those first ten seasons, Bailey averaged 14-29-43 per-82 games, while he is on a pace to finish this season with a 19-44-63 scoring line (currently 14-33-47 in 62 games).  

Bailey is not the sort of player this season to score points in bunches.  He has one multi-goal game and nine multi-point games, never recording more than two points in any of them.  However, he is consistent.  He has points in 38 of the 62 games he has played this season.  Compare that to the Caps’ Nicklas Backstrom, who has 60 points, but who has accumulated that total in only 39 games with points.  That consistency spells success.  New York is 29-7-2 in those 38 games in which Bailey has points, 7-12-5 in the 24 games in which he does not.  Bailey is 5-11-16, minus-12, in 42 career games against the Caps.

Ryan Pulock is not a household name, but he has led the Islanders’ defensemen in goal scoring over their last ten home games (three).  Now in his fourth NHL season, he was the fifth defenseman taken in the 2013 entry draft (15th overall).  Last season was his first full year in the league, and he acquitted himself well in his rookie cohort.  He led all rookie defensemen in goals (ten), finished fourth in assists (22), and tied Charlie McAvoy for third place in points among rookie defensemen.  Five of his ten goals were on power plays, tops among rookie defensemen, and his 11 power play points was fourth in that group. 

His goal scoring this season (seven in 62 games) is slightly behind last year’s pace, but he has already eclipsed last season’s assist total (he has 23), and he needs only two points heading into Thursday’s game to match last year’s point total (32).  He has also had a considerable bump in ice time, averaging more than 22 minutes per game this season, almost four minutes more per game than he averaged last season.  He got a terrible offensive start on home ice this season, failing to record a goal in his first 26 games at home, going 0-4-4, plus-3.  However, in his last five home games going into Thursday’s contest, he is 3-4-7, plus-6.  Pulock is 1-4-5, even, in seven career games against Washington.

Robin Lehner does a fairly good impression of Patrick Roy tending goal on home ice.  Of 38 goaltenders logging at least 750 minutes on home ice this season, Lehner has the best goals against average, and it isn’t close.  His 1.83 GAA is almost a third of a goal per game better than Boston’s Jaroslav Halak (2.15).  His .932 save percentage also ranks first in that group.  He has even been better over the Islanders’ last ten home games, going 6-1-0, 1.72, .938, with one shutout.  It is quite an improvement for Lehner, who has not been much of a “home cooking” sort of goalie in his career, his GAA in home games (2.68) being only slightly better than that on the road (2.75), and his save percentage similarly close in home (.915) and road games (.919).

What Lehner has not had, at least not firmly to this point, is his arms wrapped around the number one goalie spot.  He has started only four more games (33) than Thomas Greiss (29) and has a slimmer minutes played margin (2,026 to 1,698) than one would expect from goalies with well-defined roles.  Greiss has been especially impressive overall recently, until he was not.  In six appearances over a month ending on Valentine’s Day, he was 5-0-1, 0.49, .984, with three shutouts.  However, in his last appearance, on February 20th, he gave up four goals on 32 shots in a 4-2 loss in Calgary to the Flames.  Only once in his last 11 appearances on home ice has Greiss allowed more than three goals, but he has just a 5-4-1 record (one no decision) to show for it.  Lehner is 1-3-1, 2.60, .913 in five career appearances against Washington, while Greiss is 3-2-1, 2.17, .927, with one shutout in six appearances against the Caps.

1.  The Islanders are stingy hosts.  The 67 goals allowed in 30 games on home ice this season are fewest in the league, substantially fewer than the 75 goals in 29 games allowed by San Jose.

2.  No team has lost more Gimmick decisions on home ice this season than the Isles (three, tied with Detroit).

3.  No Islander has more than two game-winning goals on home ice this season, but going into Thursday’s game, five different players had two (Michael Del Colle, Devon Toews, Cal Clutterbuck, Jordan Eberle, and Mathew Barzal).

4. The Islanders can be very stingy in allowing shots on goal at home, but it does not mean they are successful doing it.  New York is just 5-5-1 when allowing opponents fewer than 25 shots on home ice.  At the other end, they are 6-0-3 when allowing opponents 35 or more shots on goal.

5.  New York will be playing in the back half of a back-to-back set of games.  And here, perhaps more than any team in the league, is where they shine.  The Isles are 9-0-1 in ten games finishing a back-to-back set, outscoring opponents, 36-13.  Frankly, it is hard to figure out how they have done it.  They were out-shot in eight of the ten games, their power play was 7-for-26 (26.9 percent), but their penalty kill was just 25-for-30 (80.0 percent).  Only twice did they have more than three power play chances, and only twice were they shorthanded more than three times.  What they were was uncommonly stingy in allowing goals.  Only once in those ten games did they allow more than two goals, the game they lost in Edmonton to the Oilers in overtime in their last instance, on February 21st.

1.  This will be the tenth instance in which the Caps played after having two full days off this season.  They are 5-4-0 in the first nine instances.  Four times, they scored five or more goals, three of them on the road (Vancouver, Carolina, and Montreal).

2.  Special teams have been an adventure when the Caps get two days off.  In the nine games, their power play is 7-for-23 (30.4 percent), while their penalty kill is 21-for-30 (70.0 percent).

3.  Five times in the ten games played with two days off, the Caps allowed more than 35 shots.  They did not record as many as 35 shots in any of those games.

4.  If this game is decided in regulation, it will be the 12th straight game between these teams that did not go to extra time, the longest such streak in this series in almost 30 years (since a 15-game streak ended in December 1990).

5.  In the last six games between these teams over the last two seasons, the Caps are minus-60 in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (44.1 percent).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Brock Nelson

So, when John Tavares left for Toronto, who inherited his minutes in the middle?  The first name that might come to mind is Mathew Barzal, but his even strength ice time is almost unchanged from last season (from 14:34 to 14:46 per game), as is his power play time (from 3:10 to 3:13).  It is Brock Nelson who appears to have inherited the increased work load, his even strength ice time up from 12:16 last season to 14:47 this season, and his power play ice time up from 1:48 per game last year to 2:27 this season.  The sixth-year NHL veteran has done well with the increased ice time, his 19 goals through 62 games matching last year’s total in 82 games and putting him on a pace to challenge his career high 26 goals in 2015-2016.  With 41 points to date, he seems all but certain to top his current career-best of 45 points set in 2016-2017.  He has been hot of late, going 3-7-10, plus-2, over his last 12 games going into Thursday night’s contest.  In 22 career games against Washington, Nelson is 6-5-11, minus-4.

Washington: Brett Connolly

Brett Connolly is in one of those zones that players dream about.  In his last 12 games, he has seven goals on 24 shots (29.2 percent shooting), and the Caps have not lost a game in regulation over that span in which he recorded at least one goal (5-0-1).  Connolly has been something of a good luck charm generally when scoring a goal the Caps losing only once in regulation this season when doing so (in St. Louis in a 5-2 loss) in posting a 11-1-3 record.  In three seasons with the Caps, the team is 34-3-7 in all games in which Connolly recorded a goal.  When he posted a goal in the Caps’ 72 win over Ottawa on Tuesday, it was his 16th of the season, establishing a new career-high after two consecutive 15-goal seasons in Washington. 

Another note about his shooting percentage.  Before coming to DC, he was under 10 percent in his previous stops – 9.5 percent shooting in 134 games in Tampa and 8.7 percent in 76 games with Boston.  In three seasons here, however, Connolly is shooting 18.2 percent in 200 games.  His timing could not be better, a career year in the walk year of his current contract.  The issue, though, is whether he can replicate his results with another team that he has achieved here, a substantial improvement over his previous two stops.  Connolly is 3-2-5, minus-2, in 17 career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

These teams split the first two games of the season series, each winning a game on the other’s ice sheet.  They play on Friday before wrapping up the season series on the last day of the regular season. The last time that the Caps played at Nassau Coliseum, they lost in overtime to the Islanders, 4-3.  It was a night not unlike the one on which the teams will play on Friday.  The Caps, 18-11-6 at the time, were chasing the Islanders (23-11-1) in the Metropolitan Division standings, the difference being that both were chasing Pittsburgh (22-8-5). On Friday, they could be playing for first place in the division.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin each scored a goal and recorded an assist that night at Nassau in December 2014.  They are the only players from that game to record points remaining from that team.  History repeating itself would be nice, well, except for the final decision.

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 64: Capitals 7 - Senators 2

The Washington Capitals spotted the Ottawa Senators an early two-goal lead, but then they stormed back with seven unanswered goals to record their largest offensive output since Opening Night in defeating the Senators, 7-2.

First Period

The Capitals got off to a rough start, giving up the game’s first goal in the fourth minute.  Washington could not secure possession of the puck in their end, and it ended up on the stick of Brian Gibbons in the right wing circle. His centering pass found Oscar Lindberg in front, and Lindberg redirected it under goalie Braden Hotlby’s pads on his first shot as a Senator to make it 1-0 at the 3:16 mark.

Ottawa doubled their lead four minutes later when on a power play, Anthony Duclair took a pass from Codi Ceci, walked up through the left wing circle, and snapped a shot past Holtby at the 7:10 mark to make it 2-0.

Washington halved the lead late in the period on a slick passing play.  Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle, and the threat of a shot pulled goalie Anders Nilsson out.  That gave Ovechkin a lane to find Tom Wilson closing down the slot, and Wilson batted the Ovechkin feed into the vacated net to make it 2-1 at the 16:57 mark.

The Caps tied the game less than a minute later.  Dmitry Orlov held the puck at the top of the left wing circle and wound up as if to shoot.  Instead, he fed Lars Eller coming down the middle, and Eller snapped the puck into the back of the net before Nilsson could lunge across to defend the shot.  The game was tied 17:50 into the period.  That would be how the teams went to the first intermission.

-- Ottawa had a 9-0 advantage in shots on goal to start the game before the Caps recorded their first one at the 10:07 mark (Burakovsky).

-- Washington held a 21-16 edge in shot attempts after one period.

-- Alex Ovechkin had five of the Caps’ nine shots on goal in the first period.

Second Period

Washington broke the tie early in the second period on a power play.  Pressing the Senators in their own end, the puck kept finding its way to John Carlson for one-timers.  His third attempt was the charm, sailing past Nilsson’s glove to make it 3-2, 2:38 into the period.

Four minutes later, T. J. Oshie took the rebound of a Brooks Orpik drive off the end wall and chipped it behind Nilsson to make it 4-2, 6:29 into the period.  Before three more minutes had elapsed, Brent Connolly made it 5-2 when he followed up his own shot from a severe angle through Nilsson’s pads.  Just 90 seconds after that, Oshie got his second of the game when he redirected a Dmitry Orlov feed through Nilsson.  The play was reviewed to see if Nilsson’s skate knocked the net off its posts before the Oshie score, but the goal was upheld, the Caps taking a 6-2 lead at the 10:33 mark.

That would be how the teams closed the second period.

-- By the time the Caps were done scoring in the second period, they had put together six goals over 13:36 of ice time spanning the first and second periods.

Third Period

It took the Caps only 17 seconds to extend their lead.  Evgeny Kuznetsov collected a pass from Alex Ovechkin that was muffled a bit, but not enough by an Ottawa defender, and rifled a shot over the blocker of relief goaltender Craig Anderson, off the near post, and off the back of the net to make it 7-2.  After that, the game devolved into a skating exhibition with the few opportunities presenting themselves favoring the home team.  The Caps skated off with their third straight home win, the first time they strung three wins together on home ice since November.

Other stuff...

-- Brett Connolly had an assist.  That made it consecutive games with an assist for Connolly for the first time in more than two months, since he had helpers in three consecutive games in early December.

-- When Connolly added a goal, it gave him his second multi-point game against the Senators this season and seventhoverall.  The goal was Connolly’s 16th, a new career high after posting 15 goals in each of the last two seasons.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s assist on the Tom Wilson goal extended his points streak to seven games.

-- John Carlson’s power play goal was his first power play goal since Opening Night in October.  The goal, Carlson’s 87th as a Capital, broke a tie with Larry Murphy for sixth place all time in goal scoring among Caps defensemen. 

-- Dmitry Orlov had his fourth multi-point game of the season and his first since January 20th.  It was his first multi-point game on home ice this season.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had his second straight multi-point game, the first time he has done that in a month (January 22 and 23 against San Jose and Toronto, both of which were losses).

-- T.J. Oshie had his fourth multi-goal game of the season and broke a five-game streak without a goal.  His second goal gave him 20 on the season, the fourth 20-goal season of his career and third with the Caps.

-- Tom Wilson had his eighth multi-point game of the season, but just his second on home ice and first since November 23rd against Detroit.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist for his 14th multi-point game this season, his 12th at Capital One Arena.

-- After allowing the first nine shots of the game to the Senators, the Caps out-shot Ottawa, 37-14.  For the game, the Caps out-attempted the Senators, 67-40.

In the end…

It wasn’t pretty to start, but when the Caps finally showed up, they did what a veteran team does.  They put the upstart Senators in their place.  In fairness to the Senators, it is a green group they have now, and they did not lack for effort until the game was hopelessly out of reach.  It was just a textbook example of the gap between a defending champion and a team trying to build to that level in the future.  On to Long Island.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 64: Senators at Capitals, February 26th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Another Trade Deadline Day is in the books, and teams are eagerly ripping the packaging off their new presents found under the tree or saying goodbye to old friends.  But the business of hockey once more gives way to the action on the ice, and the Washington Capitals return to the Capital One Arena ice sheet on Tuesday night to host the Ottawa Senators.  The Caps have alternated wins and losses much of the time over their last ten games, the exception being consecutive wins on the road last week in Los Angeles and Toronto against the Kings and Maple Leafs.  They will be looking to extend their current home winning streak to three games, a feat they have not accomplished since winning three in a row on home ice in late November.

Ottawa comes to Washington a mystery in terms of the team they will send to the ice.  Having already dealt forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, and Mark Stone widely expected to be dealt on Monday (UPDATE: Stone was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday afternoon), it is entirely possible that the Senators will ice a team whose leading goal scorer is rookie Brady Tkachuk.  Taken with the fourth-overall pick in last summer’s entry draft, Tkachuk has 14 goals in 51 games, tied for fourth among all rookies this season (with Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov).  However, as is the case with many rookies, his season has been beset by fits and starts.  He opened the season with nine goals in his first 14 games, but he has only five goals in his last 37 games.  He has only one goal in his last 18 road games.  Tkachuk is certainly a feisty player, too.  The 22 penalties he has taken in 51 games trails only Svechnikov (25 in 61 games) among rookies, and his 63 penalty minutes trails only Winnipeg’s Brendan Lemieux (64) in the rookie class.  Tkachuk has two assists in two career games against the Caps.

The Senators will lose nine power play goals with the departures of Duchene and Dzingel, 14 if Stone is moved.  That will leave Colin White as the team leader in power play goals scored (five, tied with Bobby Ryan).  White is in his first full season with the Senators after getting a brief two-game look in 2016-2017 and a longer 21-game stint last season.  White is the leading point-getter among rookies for the Sens (32, one more than Tkachuk), is tied among Ottawa rookies in game-winning goals (two, with Tkachuk and Drake Batherson), and leads all Senator forwards in blocked shots (27) and takeaways (19).  He is, though, another player who started well and then faded in his goal scoring, posting six goals in his first 17 games this season but only seven in his last 39 contests.  White is 1-1-2, minus-1, in two career games against the Caps.

Thomas Chabot has been among the league leading defensemen all season in a number of offensive categories.  Through Sunday’s games, he was tied for fourth among defensemen in goals (13), tied for 11th in assists (34), tied for seventh in points (47), and he did it as one of the league’s top minutes consumers, one of 20 league defensemen averaging at least 24 minutes per game (24:09/18th).  Chabot’s development has been quite impressive.  He was taken 18th overall in the 2015 entry draft, the fifth defenseman taken in what was a pretty deep draft at the position (Noah Hanafin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, and Jakub Aboril taken ahead of him; Brandon Carlo and Vince Dunn, among others, taken later).  Two years ago, he got into one game with the Senators, and last year he appeared in 63 games as a rookie, going 9-16-25.  He was second among rookie defensemen in goals last season, seventh in assists, and fifth in points.  This season breaks down into three parts for Chabot.  He was 5-17-22 in his first 16 games before “slumping” to 5-12-17 in his next 28 games.  He has picked up lately, going 3-5-8 in his last ten contests.  Chabot is 0-1-1, minus-1, in three career games against the Caps.

1.  Ottawa does not travel well.  They are tied for last in the league in road wins (eight, with New Jersey), last in standings points (17), last in goals allowed 131, 29th in shots on goal allowed (1,089), last in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (44.45), and last in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 (minus-325).

2.  Ottawa loses big, and they lose close.  Only Edmonton and New Jersey have lost more games by three or more goals (19) than Ottawa (18).  Only Vancouver and Detroit have lost more one-goal games in regulation (11) than the Senators (nine).

3.  Watch the second period of this game.  No team has scored more second period goals than the Caps (82), and no team has allowed more second period goals than the Senators (81, tied with Detroit).

4.  If Ottawa allows the first goal, it is a bad sign for the Senators.  They have won seven games when allowing the first goal. Only New Jersey has fewer wins in those situations (four).

5.  Ottawa leads the league in major penalties (22).

1.  The Caps have allowed 14 goals over their last three home games.  It is their highest total of goals allowed on home ice of any three-game stretch this season.

2.  No team in the Eastern Conference has been penalized as often as the Caps, 256 penalties in 63 games, eight more than the New York Rangers (in 62 games).

3.  The Caps sit on 999 blocked shots this season.  We know you’re on pins and needles about which player will make it “1,000.”

4.  Chances are, the Caps will lose at least 15 faceoffs in this game (their season low is 23 faceoff losses).  That 15th faceoff loss will make the Caps the first team this season with 2,000 faceoff losses.

5.  The Caps have displayed an odd talent this season – squeezing out a point when the opponent scores first.  No team has earned a point in more games when allowing the first goal than the Caps – 19 games (12 wins, seven extra time losses), tied with Minnesota (16 wins, three extra time losses).\

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Bobby Ryan

Even on trade deadline day, there are some contracts that really can’t be moved.  Bobby Ryan signed a seven-year/$50.75 million deal with a modified no-trade/no-movement clause in October 2014 (source:  Now in the fourth year of that deal, the Senators have a high teens goal scorer (18 per 82 games) and a mid-40’s points producer (46 points per 82 games over the four seasons).  If Caps fans need a comparable, that is pretty much the scoring line for Brooks Laich in his best years here (20-28-48 per 82 games over five years, from 2007-2008 through 2011-2012).  The difference being that Ryan once put together four straight 30-plus goal seasons.  It is not entirely a function of diminished ice time that Ryan’s numbers have slipped.  He averaged 17:38 a game in Anaheim over six seasons, and he has averaged 16:38 in six seasons with Ottawa.  Ryan has picked up the scoring pace on the road, though.  Over his first 15 road games this season, he was 3-6-9, minus-6.  In his last 14 road games, he is 6-6-12, minus-12.  Ryan is 7-6-13, minus-6, in 21 career games against the Capitals.

Washington:  T.J. Oshie

T. J. Oshie is closing on a few milestones in his career as a Washington Capital.  He has 95 goals in four seasons with the club, in a race with Evgeny Kuznetsov (96 goals) to become the 28th player in team history to reach the 100-goal mark with the club.  He is three assists away from becoming the 48th player in team history to record at least 100 assists.  Eight points, and he will become the 41st player to reach 200 points with the Caps.  In 52 games this season, Oshie has already matched the 18 goals he recorded in 74 games last season, and while he will not approach the career-best 33 goals he had two seasons ago, he could challenge the 26 goals he recorded for the Caps in 2015-2016, his second-highest career goal total for a season in the NHL. 

What the Caps are hoping for at this point in the season is for Oshie to improve his production somewhat.  He started the season with 10 goals in his first 19 games.  The 23.8 shooting percentage on which that start was built was not sustainable (his career average is 13.7 percent).  And things did change; he has only 8 goals over his last 33 games on 12.1 percent shooting.  It would be a plus if his home scoring picked up in particular.  Oshie has two goals over his last 11 home games.  It matters; the Caps have not lost a game in regulation on home ice this season in which Oshie recorded a goal (8-0-1).  Not only that, Washington has yet to lose a game in regulation in games in which Oshie recorded a point (13-0-2).  Oshie is 4-7-11, plus-9, in 18 career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

There is a serious temptation here to look past this game, against a struggling opponent, with whom there isn’t a lot of history; a team that will be icing a hybrid team of youngsters, prospects, aging vets that cannot be moved, in anticipation of the contest later this week in New York against the Islanders.  On paper, Ottawa does not come within a time zone of beating the Caps in this game.  And that is what makes it so dangerous.  For the Caps, the first order of business will be to jump on this team early, so that the Senators don’t get too frisky an attitude and think they can actually win this game.  Of course, given the Caps’ third period issues this season, no game is over until it is over, either.

Capitals 6 – Senators 3

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 21

The Washington Capitals wrapped up Week 21 by putting the last of their six-game road trip, their longest of the season, on the books.  It was up and down, inconsistent, and ultimately, leaning to disappointing.  Meanwhile, the team made three personnel moves, one of which was surprising, the others reminiscent of a move they made last year that was among the most consequential in recent team history.  It was part of a season in which the Caps are hoping history, in many respect, repeats itself.

Record: 2-2-0

A pair of 3-2 wins, a pair of 5-2 losses.  That the Caps got out of the week with four points might be considered fortunate, the team not particularly explosive on offense and woefully inconsistent on defense.  The two three-goal losses are particularly disturbing on one level, not so much on another.  The two three-goal losses brought the Caps’ season total to 12 such decisions.  Only five times since 2005-2006 have they posted more, and they are threatening to hit the high-water mark since they returned to the playoffs in 2001-2008 (17, in 2011-2012).  On the other hand, they are on a pace to finish with 16 such losses which would not look a lot different than the 14 they posted last season on their way to a Stanley Cup.  And note, four of those losses by three or more goals came in the Caps’ last 20 games last season.

Then there are those two one-goal wins.  That brought their total this season to 15.  Only twice in 13 previous seasons have the Caps recorded fewer one-goal wins, nine in 2006-2007 and 13 in the abbreviated 48-game season in 2012-2013.  On the other hand, they are on a pace to finish with 20 one-goal wins, which would match their total from last season.  On the good side, the Caps have only four one-goal losses in regulation this season, at the moment the fewest they have recorded since 2005-2006.

Caps fans had better hope that there is not a regression to a mean with respect to one-goal decisions.  At week’s end the Caps found themselves in the familiar second-place spot in the Metropolitan Division that they have occupied for a while now.  However, they have only a three-point lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins, who sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, the highest-ranked non-playoff eligible team at the moment.

Offense: 2.50/game (season: 3.29/9th)

The Caps were consistently mediocre on offense against teams with mediocre scoring defenses in Week 21.  That the Caps did not score more than three, nor fewer than two goals against the likes of Anaheim (16th in scoring defense at the end of the week), Buffalo (17th), Los Angeles (19th), was disappointing.  Even scoring three against the eighth-ranked Toronto Maple Leaf scoring defense was somewhat disappointing, given that the Caps jumped on Toronto for two goals in the second period, but had to rely on a shorthanded goal, the first that they scored on the road this season, for their winning margin.

One problem on offense for the Caps was the utter lack of balance.  Half of the team’s goals for the week were posted by Alex Ovechkin (five).  Those five goals extended his goals scored streak to five games, and he has goals in six of his last seven contests (seven goals overall).  When he scored the game’s first goal against the Anaheim Ducks in the first game of the week, he became the fourth player in NHL history to record ten 40-goal seasons in his first 14 years in the league.  He is tied with Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux for the second-most 40-goal seasons (ten), trailing only Wayne Gretzky (12).  Ovechkin and Lemieux are the only players in history with ten or more 40-goal seasons for one franchise.

Brett Connolly was the other Capital with a multi-goal week, posting goals in consecutive games in Los Angeles and in Toronto.  Perhaps not coincidentally, those were the Caps’ wins for the week, illustrating the benefits of secondary scoring.  After that, it was Wilson (shorthanded game-winner against Toronto), Andre Burakovsky (his first goal in more than two weeks), and John Carlson (his first goal since before the All-Star Game break).

The overall lack of production and absence of balance were not especially surprising, given the Caps’ inability to get pucks to the net.  They averaged only 26.8 shots on goal for the week.  If there was anything odd about that, it was that while Ovechkin finished with 21 of the 107 total shots on goal, it was Nicklas Backstrom who finished second (15).  Backstrom has been shooting in bad luck.  He does not have a goal since before the All-Star Game break and is 0-for-32 shooting over his last 12 games.

Defense: 3.50/game (season: 3.18/23rd)

When the ledger was closed on Week 21, the Caps had allowed five goals in a game twice more, bringing their total for the season to 16 games allowing five or more goals.  Only five teams have allowed five goals in more games, and no other playoff-eligible team at the end of the week allowed that many or more goals more than 13 times (San Jose, St. Louis).  That might not be surprising, either, the Caps allowing opponents an average of 36.8 shots per game for the week.   Every team the Caps played for the week out-shot their season averages.

That the Caps had a shot differential at 5-on-5 for the week of minus-49 was not surprising in this context.  What was surprising was that they finished with the second worst shot differential to the team in front of them in the division standings.  The New York Islanders were a minus-68 in only three games.  This might be an emerging issue for this team (and one they might hope will be addressed by the personnel moves this week).  The Caps have been a “minus” team in 5-on-5 shot differential in seven straight games (in four of which going minus-10 or worse) and 11 of their last 13 games.  Only once since New Years have the Caps been plus-10 or better than their opponent on the road (at Detroit on January 6th) and only five times all season.

Goaltending: 3.27 / .911 (season: 3.02 / .907 / 3 shutouts)

The split in games – three for Braden Holtby and one for Pheonix Copley – was expected.  The results were expected, to a point.  Holtby (.907 save percentage) and Copley (.929) were close to or better than their save percentages over the season.  However, Holtby in particular had a difficult week.  He faced more than ten shots in seven of the nine periods in which he played, more than 15 shots twice.  For the week he faced an average of 39.6 shots per 60 minutes.  It is one thing to thrive, as Holtby seems to do, with heavy shot volume, but this was just too many shots faced.  And, it had the predictable results over periods.  He had a .951 save percentage in the first periods of games for the week, .903 in the second periods of games, and a .870 save percentage in the third periods of games.

 Nevertheless, here is another emerging issue.  Holtby has not won consecutive appearances since early January.  Since those wins over Detroit and Boston, Holtby is 4-6-2, 3.45, .898 in 14 appearances (two no  decisions).  If these numbers do not improve, the Caps might find themselves fighting for their playoff lives before the season is over.

On the other hand, Copley won his third straight decision when he backstopped the 3-2 win over Los Angeles last Monday.  The three-game winning streak is his longest in the 2019 portion of the season in nine appearances.  It was his 22nd appearance of the season.  While he does not appear in a position to challenge Philipp Grubauer’s 35 appearances last season as a backup/sometime number one netminder, is on a pace to challenge being only the third Capitals backup goaltender to appear in 30 or more games since the 2005-2006 season (in addition to Grubauer, Brent Johnson appeared in 30 games behind Olaf Kolzig’s 54 games in 2006-2007).

Power Play: 3-for-10/30.0 percent (season: 21.5 percent/12th)

On the plus side, there is that 30 percent conversion rate on the power play in Week 21.  It is only the second week in the last ten that the Caps converted 30 percent or more of their power play chances.  On minus side, there are those ten chances in four games.  The power play opportunities track with the offense generally, not more than three, nor fewer than two in any of the four games over the week.  Again, though, it was an uneven performance.  The Caps recorded two of those power play goals – both by Alex Ovechkin (on the only power play shots the Caps recorded in the game) – on two chances against Los Angeles and went 1-for-8 otherwise.  And, Ovechkin had that power play goal, too (against Toronto).  The three power play goals for the week gave Ovechkin 14 for the season, tied for fourth in the league with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl.  Four of Ovechkin’s last seven goals have come on power plays.

The Caps were reasonably efficient, if unbalanced.  Ovechkin was 3-for-6 on power play shots, the rest of the team going 0-for-8.  The 14 shots on goal came in 16:01 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-13/76.9 percent (season: 78.6 percent/22nd)

It was, more or less, a typical penalty killing week in terms of efficiency.  The 13 shorthanded situations faced, however, leaned on the high side of volume.  That should not be surprising.  The Caps finished the week with the sixth-highest number of shorthanded situations faced on the road (106).  It mattered, at least coincidentally.  The Caps lost both games for the week in which they faced four shorthanded situation, and they won the other two in which they faced fewer than four.  It also happened to be in those two games in which they allowed those three power play goals – two to Anaheim and one to Buffalo in a pair of 5-2 losses. 

There was the shorthanded goal scored by Tom Wilson, though, which was the game-winner against Toronto.  It was the first shorthanded goal scored by the Caps on the road this season and the fourth time in four games in which they had one that the Caps won.

It was a case of just a little too much opportunity for opponents.  The Caps spent 23:27 killing penalties for the week and allowed 21 shots.  More than 13 minutes of the shorthanded ice time was spent in the two losses.  Going short had its consequences.

Faceoffs: 80-for-206 / 38.8 percent (season: 45.8 percent/31st)

There is bad, and there is whatever Week 21 was for the Caps in the faceoff circle.  Over a population of draws, winning percentage does not mean much.  But like insurance, you don’t need it until you need it, and if the Caps find themselves faced with an important draw late in, say, a postseason game, there isn’t anything in their performance to date to suggest they can draw on that skill for an advantage.

The Caps were under 50 percent in three of the four games and in all three zones for the week, but the most disturbing part was the individual performances.  Five Caps took at least ten draws for the week, and only Nic Dowd finished over 50 percent.  Better still, he was over 65 percent in the ends (66.7 percent in the offensive end, 69.2 percent in the defensive end).  After that, though, things took a turn.  Only T.J. Oshie topped 40 percent for the week, barely (41.2 percent).  The most disturbing of all, though, was Evgeny Kuznetsov who, even by his standards, had a ghastly week.  No Capital took more draws for the week (62), but he won barely 30 percent of them and was under 30 percent in the offensive zone.  Relying on puck retrieval was a non-starter here, since Kuznetsov had only one point in four games for the week.

Goals by Period:

Third periods are just killing this team.  They had an edge in the first period of games, and they had an edge in the second periods of games, but they were throttled in the third periods of the four contests, allowing nine of the 14 goals allowed for the week.  Washington finished the week with a minus-21 goal differential in third periods this season, the second-worst goal differential in third periods in the league (Florida is minus-24).  The 76 goals allowed in the third periods of games puts the Caps on a pace to allow the most third period goals in their history since 2005-2006 (they allowed 93 third period goals in 2005-2006, when they lost 41 games and finished with only 70 standings points).  If they should hit the 100 third period goals allowed mark, it would be the first time they did so since 1992-1993 (103).


The difference in wins and losses this season is Saturday’s loss to Buffalo.  Had the Caps won that game, they would have precisely the same record this year as last through 62 games (35-20-7).  As it is, their scoring is up a bit, but so are the goals allowed, perhaps a function of more scoring generally across the league.  Special teams differences between last year and this continue to be small.  In other respects, the Caps are putting up higher volumes in other measures this season, both good and bad, with the exception of penalties/penalty minutes, which continue to track below last year’s pace.

In the end…

In the prognosto to Saturday’s game against Buffalo, we stated, “Going 3-3 on a road trip is not the worst outcome, given the length of the trip.  However, how a team gets there matters.  If the Caps get there by losing to the Sabres, a struggling team at the moment, it would be a disappointment.”  The Caps lost, not really making much of a game of it, and it was a disappointment.  But more to the point, they lost a chance to keep pace with the New York Islanders, who shut out Vancouver to take a four-point lead with a game in hand on the Capitals.  It makes the short two-game home stand coming up this week especially important, since upon completing it, the Caps head to Long Island to take on the Isles to begin the March schedule. 

In that respect, it makes for finding out in short order how well the personnel moves will address weakness and production issues.  Devante Smith-Pelly, one of the heroes of the 2018 postseason run, was waived and sent to Hershey when he cleared, a casualty of weak performance over the past couple of months.  Then there were the additions – Carl Hagelin (obtained in trade from Los Angeles) and Nick Jensen (obtained in trade from Detroit) -- who need to hit the ground running (or the ice skating) to fit in and shore up some of the weaknesses (penalty killing, third period performance, possession) as the stretch run begins in earnest.  The Caps hope that those two under-the-radar moves recreate the success they had in obtaining defenseman Michal Kempny last season in a trade that stands as one of the most important in the recent history of the franchise.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (5-0-5, plus-1, 3 PPG, 21 shots, 30 shot attempts, 12 hits, became fourth player in NHL history with ten 40-goal seasons, became 14th player in league history to reach the 650 career goal mark)
  • Second Star: Tom Wilson (1-1-2, plus-2, SH/GWG, 14 PIMs, reached 30-point mark for second straight season)
  • Third Star: Brett Connolly (2-0-2), minus-2, tied career high in goals scored (15, equaling total in each of previous two seasons))

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 62: Capitals at Sabres, February 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Twelve days and 5,000 miles to get to… Buffalo.  Not exactly the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow, but upstate New York is where the Washington Capitals’ season-long six game road trip will end on Saturday afternoon.  The Caps will be trying to earn their fourth win on the trip and their third consecutive game overall for the first time in a month.

Buffalo is coming off a road trip of their own, dropping all three games to extend their losing streak to four games overall (0-3-1).  Winning consecutive games has become a challenge for the Sabres, who have not done so since Games 31-32 in December.  Since then, when they reached their high-water record for the season at 19-9-4, the Sabres are 9-15-4, fifth-worst record in the league over that span.

Unsurprisingly, the Buffalo problem is at both ends of the ice, being a bottom-ten club in goals scored over that span (72/sixth-fewest) and goals allowed (93/tied for tenth-most, with Pittsburgh).  On the offensive side of the ledger, the Sabres are continuing to get top notch goal scoring from Jeff Skinner who, with 36 goals this season to date, is within one goal of his career-best – 37 with Carolina in 2016-2017.  In this 28-game slide, Skinner has 14 goals, most on the club.  The trouble is, however, that Skinner has the worst plus-minus on the club in that span among forwards (minus-16), and only Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf among all league forwards has a worse plus-minus over that span (minus-27).  It is a reflection of the broader issues the Sabres have had over the last two months, Skinner having gone plus-19 in his first 32 games as the Sabres were getting off to that hot start. 

That Skinner should find himself on the brink of setting a career high in goals is surprising in one respect.  He started the season without a goal in his first six home games.  However, he followed that up with goals in his next six home games (a total of eight) and has 20 goals in his last 24 games on home ice.  Skinner is 12-13-25, minus-3, in 39 career games against Washington.

Buffalo has had 11 defensemen dress this season, but only two have dressed for all of them.  Call them Ras 1 and Ras 2.  Rasmus Dahlin is the phenom, the number one overall pick of the 2018 draft that will be the cornerstone of the franchise and the anchor of the defense for years to come.  But for now, it is Rasmus Ristolainen who leads all Sabre defensemen in ice time (24:58 per game), points (36), power play points (12, tied with Dahlin), game-winning goals (two, tied with Dahlin), shots on goal (148, and hits (180).  Despite this being only his sixth season with the Sabres, Ristolainen is one of 13 defensemen in team history to appear in 400 or more games (406).  He is 13th among that group in goals scored (36), ninth in assists (151), ninth in points (187), tied for ninth in game-winning goals (six), hits (904/third since the statistic was recorded in 1997-1998), second in blocked shots (668), fifth in takeaways (94). 

Ristolainen has also been part of a run of struggles in Buffalo, too.  He is one of 12 defensemen in Sabre history to have at least five seasons in their first six with a plus-minus of minus-10 or worse.  His career minus-125 is worst in team history among defensemen, and his minus-23 for the season is tied for third-worst among all league defensemen.  In 13 career games against the Caps, Ristolainen is 0-6-6, minus-5.

In the two-month team slump, the goaltending has not been awful, but not quite mediocre, either.  That was not supposed to be the case when Buffalo signed Carter Hutton away from the St. Louis Blues last summer on a three-year/$8.25 million contract.  Hutton was coming off a career year, posting a record of 17-7-3, 2.09, .931, with three shutouts, his goals against average and save percentage being best in the league among goalies logging at least 1,000 minutes.  Over the Sabres’ last 28 games, Hutton has started 14 of them, posting a 2-9-3, 3.19, .899 record.  On a broader scale, the biggest issue with his season to date would seem to be his home and road records.  On the road, he has struggled, going 5-11-2, 3.11, .899.  On the other hand, he is 10-6-2, 2.48, .922 at home.  That home save percentage ranks 11th among 37 goalies with at least 750 minutes on home ice, while the save percentage ranks sixth.  Those numbers have slipped some recently.  In the 28-game slump over the last two months, Hutton has appeared in six games on home ice, going 1-4-1, 2.82, .911.  He is 2-3-2, 3.35, .880 in eight career appearances against the Caps.

1.  Buffalo is feast or famine on home ice.  Over their last nine games at KeyBank Center, they have allowed opponents five or more goals four times, and they have held them to a single goal three times.

2.  The Sabres, despite their recent difficulties, remain one of the better teams overall on home ice.  Their 17-9-4 overall record is sixth-best in the Eastern Conference and compares favorably with the Caps, for instance, who are 17-9-5 (fifth-best).

3.  Buffalo has done a fine job avoiding shorthanded situations at home.  The Sabres have 74 shorthanded situations faced on home ice this season, third-fewest in the league (Columbus: 72; Toronto: 68).  As a result, their 11 power play goals allowed is tied for fewest allowed on home ice (with Vegas, San Jose, and Tampa Bay).

4.  This is not a team that produces a lot in the gritty arts.  Buffalo is 30th in hits on home ice (495), last in blocked shots (352), and tied for 29th in takeaways (164).  One might say that those numbers are a possession effect, but the Sabres are a middle of the road team in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.44/20th).

5.  This game will be the 1,900th game that the Sabres have played on home ice in franchise history.  They are 1021-606-75, with 197 ties at home.

1.  The Caps will be trying to earn their 18th road win of the season.  If they do so, they will have more wins on the road than they do at home (17).  Through Thursday’s games, six teams in the league had more road than home wins: Toronto, Columbus, St. Louis, Minnesota, Colorado, and Arizona.

2.  Washington has the third-worst differential in shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (minus-240) when leading, ahead of only Ottawa (minus-316) and the New York Islanders (minus-328), an indicator of their easing up off the gas when leading in games.

3.  After a ghastly three-game stretch on the road in which the Caps allowed 21 goals, they have allowed only 12 goals in five road games since then.

4.  The Caps care not about intimidation on an opponent’s ice sheet.  They have scored four or more goals 15 times on the road this season, third highest in the league, trailing only Tampa Bay and Toronto (18 times apiece).

5.  Despite a 17-11-2 record on the road, the Caps are the only team among the top ten in standing points earned on the road with a negative goal differential (minus-4 on 98 goals for, 102 against).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Zach Bogosian

Rasmus Dahlin gets more attention, and Rasmus Ristolainen is the workhorse, but the Buffalo defenseman most familiar to Caps fans might be Zach Bogosian.  Since he came into the league in 2008-2009, only eight defensemen in the league have faced the Caps more often than Bogosian, who has done so 32 times.  This season, he is enjoying a comparatively injury-free season for the first time in quite a while.  Durability has been an issue with Bogosian over much of his 11-year career.  With 53 games played so far this season, he is on a pace to top 60 games played for only the third time in the last six years and only the second time in four years in Buffalo.  His presence in the lineup matters, too.  In 11 games in which he logged at least 24 minutes, the Sabres are 7-2-2, while they are just 5-8-0 in games in which he skated less than 20 minutes.  In those 32 career games against the Caps, Bogosian is 3-7-10, minus-8.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

Capitals fans are likely to get their first look at Carl Hagelin in a Caps’ sweater on Saturday.  Perhaps the change in wardrobe will do him good, at least in the offensive end.  He did not post a goal over his last 11 games with the Kings and is just 1-2-3, minus-3, in 17 games of the 2019 portion of the schedule.  His trade to Washington was his second in barely three months, having been traded to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh for Tanner Pearson last November.  It has been a frustrating season for Hagelin who, in addition to the moves, missed 20 games with a sprained knee ligament in December and January.  That has held him to 38 games played overall and would appear to ensure that this will be his least productive offensive season.  With two goals and eight points in those 38 games, it would require quite a push even to equal the 6-16-22 season he had in 61 games with Pittsburgh in 2016-2017.  That season set off an odd change in Hagelin’s offensive profile.  Over his first five NHL seasons, he was a respectable, if not a remarkable 9.4 percent shooter in 346 games.  Starting with that 2016-2017 season, however, Hagelin is shooting only 5.0 percent in 180 games over three seasons as he joins the Caps.  He is 7-3-10, plus-10, in 21 career games against Buffalo.

In the end…

Going 3-3 on a road trip is not the worst outcome, given the length of the trip.  However, how a team gets there matters.  If the Caps get there by losing to the Sabres, a struggling team at the moment, it would be a disappointment.  But this is a difficult venue for the Caps, who have split their last four decisions in Buffalo (2-2-0) and are 11-10-2 there since the dark 2004-2005 season.  The Sabres have suffered what young teams with talent often seem to do.  They could not sustain a good start into the grind of the winter months.  This is, after all, a team that has dressed ten skaters younger than 25 this season.  And, it is not as if one part of their game has collapsed.  It has been more a case of their sagging at both ends of the ice.  That spells trouble for the rest of the season, suggesting that this club is not yet mature enough to grind out wins over the long haul.  It is a situation a veteran team such as the Caps needs to take advantage of to make this a truly successful road trip.

Capitals 4 – Sabres 2

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Maple Leafs, February 21st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After wrapping up their California trip with two wins sandwiched around a loss, the Washington Capitals work their way back east as they wrap up their six-game road trip with a pair of games against Atlantic Division opponents.  The first of those contests comes on Thursday night when the Caps face off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena.  The Capitals can earn at least a split of the 12 available standings points on this trip with a win, but they will be facing the team with the best record among the three teams from the Eastern Conference they will have faced on this trip.

Toronto will be hosting the Caps after completing a six-game road trip of their own on which they went 3-2-1.  It will be nice for the Leafs to return home, where they have a four-game winning streak that started when they beat the Caps, 6-3, on January 23rd in what was both teams’ last game before the All-Star Game break.

The Maple Leafs are a high-scoring team, the second-highest scoring offense overall (3.53 goals per game) to the Tampa Bay Lightning (3.90).  However, that scoring offense on home ice is lower (3.41) than it is on the road (3.63).  John Tavares leads the team in home goals (14) and his 0.48 goals per game on home ice is second to Auston Matthews (0.50).  Tavares has had an interesting first season in Toronto after signing a seven-year/$77 million contract as a free agent last summer.  He started off like gangbusters on the road, scoring a hat trick in his first road game as a Leaf and going 11-7-18, plus-6, in his first 11 road games.  At home, it was a different story.  He did score a goal in his first game as a Leaf, an Opening Night win in Toronto against Montreal.  However, it was the only goal he scored in his first nine games at Scotiabank Arena.  It mattered.  While Tavares was going 1-4-5, minus-1, in those nine games, the Leafs were posting a 4-5-0 record. 

After that nine-game start on home ice, though, Tavares has been on a roll. In his last 20 home games, he is 13-10-23, plus-8, and he has points in 15 of those games.  More important, Toronto is 13-6-1 in those 20 games.  Tavares, who has eight multi-point games in his last 19 contests on home ice after not having any in his first ten games, is 15-16-31, plus-2, in 36 career games against the Caps.

With all the attention lavished on the shiny new object (Tavares) and the precocious young emerging stars (Matthews and  Mitch Marner, for example), a player like Nazem Kadri can get lost in the noise, even with the volume of pixels and column inches devoted to Maple Leaf hockey in Toronto.  However, Kadri is in or on the brink of breaking into the top-25 in franchise history in a number of categories:
  • Games: 546 (25th)
  • Goals: 160 (26th/needs two to tie for 25th)
  • Points: 348 (27th/needs three to tie for 25th)
  • Even-Strength Goals: 111 (24th)
  • Power Play Goals: 48 (17th)
  • Game-Winning Goals: 21 (29th/needs two to tie for 23rd)
  • Shots on Goal: 1368 (16th)

However, he is behind his scoring pace of the past couple of years.  In each of the two seasons preceding this one, Kadri recorded 32 goals, his first NHL seasons with 30 or more goals.  With 15 goals in 59 games this season, he is on a pace to finish with 21.  On the other hand, his 20 assists in 59 games puts him on a pace to finish with 28, putting him in striking distance of his career high (30 in 2013-2014) if he has a season-ending rush in that category.  Kadri has had an interesting run of late on home ice.  In ten of his last 11 games at Scotiabank Arena, he has a total one point (an assist) and is a minus-5.  However, there is that 3-1-4, plus-5, game he had on January 23rd.  What is at issue is whether he will dress against Washington.  He was injured in the overtime loss to St. Louis on Tuesday, suspected of having sustained a concussion.  Against the Caps, Kadri is 7-7-14, even, in 22 career games.

Here is a tale of two goalies and the price paid for facing a lot of shots.  Consider Toronto’s Frederik Andersen and Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury.  In the 2019 portion of the schedule, they have face almost the same number of shots (427 for Andersen, 423 for Fleury), and they have almost identical goals against averages (2.75 for Andersen, 2076 for Fleury).  However, Andersen has posted his numbers in 719 minutes, while Fleury has done so in 892 minutes.  The difference is efficiency and the price paid for facing high shot volumes.  Andersen has faced 35.6 shots per 60 minutes, while Fleury has faced 28.4 shots per 60 minutes.  That is the difference between a .923 save percentage (Andersen, eighth-best among goalies with at least 500 minutes since January 1st) and a .903 save percentage (Fleury/23rd).  It is a good think Andersen has been playing as well, or at least as efficiently as he has been, or the Leafs would be in a world of hurt.  Andersen is 5-1-1, .916, 2.76, with two shutouts in seven career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  For all of their considerable offensive firepower, the Leafs are one of only two teams in the league without a shorthanded goal on home ice this season (Florida is the other).

2.  Toronto is one of five teams yet to treat their fans to a freestyle competition on home ice this season.  Colorado, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Dallas are the other clubs not to have a game decided by shootout on home ice this season.

3.  Toronto is the only team in the league that has not taken a major penalty on home ice this season.  No other team has fewer than three majors on home ice this season.

4.  Scotiabank Arena is like an amusement park in one respect.  The Maple Leafs are the only team in the league that is top-five in 5-on-5 shot attempts for (1581/3rd) and most shot-attempts against (1491/4th) on home ice.  It’s always a fun ride there.

5.  Toronto are capable of giving their fans a show.  Only Tampa Bay has recorded more games with five or more goals scored on home ice this season (10) than the Maple Leafs on home ice (5) among Eastern Conference teams.

1.  In 12 full 82-game seasons in the post 2—4-2005 era, coming into this season, the Caps recorded 20 or more road wins eight times.  They need four more road wins to make it nine times in 13 seasons.

2.  Alex Ovechkin leads the team in road points this season (33).  Who is second?  Backstrom??  Nope… Kuznetsov?? Nope… It’s John Carlson (27 points).  Only Brent Burns has more assists on the road this season among defensemen (33) than Carlson (22).

3.  Michal Kempny is a plus-14 on the road this season.  The other eight Caps defensemen to dress for road games are a combined  plus-1.

4.  If a Caps defenseman is going to get a goal on the road, maybe it is best to put one’s money on Matt Niskanen.  He is one of only 11 defensemen in the league to have recorded at least 40 shots on goal in road games with a shooting percentage over 10 percent (10.9).

5.  The Caps have 16 road wins this season.  That number is split right down the middle between goalies Braden Holtby and Pheonix Copley (eight wins apiece).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Ron Hainsey

Jake Gardiner has always been the tantalizing talent; Morgan Rielly is the rising star.  Two defensemen who can put up points on a team that puts up points.  They fit right in.  However, there is room for old school in Toronto, too, and that is where Ron Hainsey steps in.  Hainsey is, in a way, Toronto’s version of Brooks Orpik, a defenseman of considerable experience who can serve as a steadying influence on his younger colleagues and play stay-at-home while his partners go off and jump into the play on offense.  It has worked well for the Leafs and Hainsey, who has the third-best plus-minus (plus-26) of any defenseman in the league through Tuesday’s games.  He, like Orpik, is in his 16th NHL season.  He, like Orpik, passed the 1,000 games played mark this season.  And he, like Orpik, is not really a big offensive contributor.  Hainsey has not scored more than five goals in an NHL season since 2008-2009 (six), but that was with Atlanta, three teams ago in his career. 

And that is the biggest difference between Orpik and Hainsey.  Whereas Orpik compiled his 1,014 NHL games playing for two franchises – Pittsburgh and Washington – Hainsey compiled his 1,046 games to date for five franchises: Columbus, Atlanta, Montreal, Winnipeg, and now Toronto.  If there is a concession to his years, it is ice time.  The 19:56 he is averaging at the moment is the first time he has averaged less than 20 minutes a game since 2010-2011 (18:05 with Atlanta).  However, when he does log minutes, the Leafs are successful.  They are 26-4-1 in the 31 games win which he logged at least 20 minutes.  Hainsey is 1-5-6, minus-14, in 51 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Brooks Orpik

There is one odd fact attached to Brooks Orpik this season worthy of mention.  In 505 career games played on the road in his career, he has six goals.  A third of them have come in 15 road games this season.  That isn’t even the especially odd fact.  What is, is that the Caps lost both games, in overtime to Pittsburgh in the first road game of the season and to Chicago in January.  It is only slightly less odd that when Orpik records a point at home, the Caps win (twice), and when he records one on the road, they lose (0-1-2).  More odd facts… Orpik obviously doesn’t post many points, but he does spread them around; he has at least one point against each of the four divisions this season (two against the Central)…he has points in each month in which he played more than one game (he had no points in one game in December).  But here is the oddest fact of all, or perhaps the most disturbing.  The Caps are 14-12-6 in games in which he dressed this season, 19-8-1 in games he was absent.  No single player makes that significant a difference on their own between wins and losses over the course of a season, but this is not a contrast the Caps want to be taking into the postseason, either.  Orpik is 0-9-9, minus-9, in 44 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

It has been ten days since the Caps last skated on home ice.  This far into a road trip, one would think the charm of bonding or the odd team trip/activity would lose its charm (well, not a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame for a ceremony).  But this is, as they say, a “benchmark” game, a contest pitting a team on the back half of a difficult road trip facing a club they might face in the postseason that can be thought of as being on a short list of contenders to advance to the Stanley Cup final.  The Caps have to fight through some unevenness in their game on this trip.  They have shown firepower (five goals against San Jose) but have been quiet, too (shutout by Columbus).  They displayed suffocating defense (against San Jose and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles) but were torched by a team that couldn’t shoot a puck into ocean from the beach (Anaheim).  If the Caps do not bring their “A” game against Toronto, the grade they’ll likely wind up with is “F.”

Capitals 4 – Maple Leafs 3