Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 15: Sabres at Capitals, November 1st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Friday night after completing one of their most successful road trips in recent memory.  The thanks for their success will be to host the Buffalo Sabres, their 9-2-2 record going into this game being one of the biggest surprises of the young season. 

Then and Now…

This will be the 162nd meeting of the Capitals and Sabres since their first meeting in November 1974 (a 7-3 Sabres win).  The Caps have a 57-84-5 (15 ties) record against Buffalo in 161 games to date, 31-38-3 (nine ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the results have been more to Caps fans’ liking, the team going 27-18-4 in 49 games overall and 16-7-2 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Caps vs. Sabres:
  • Goals: Ovechkin (32)
  • Assists: Backstrom (21)
  • Points: Ovechkin (48)
  • Plus-minus: Kuznetsov (plus-9)
  • Penalty minutes: Ovechkin (69)
  • Power play goals: Ovechkin (13)
  • Power play points: Ovechkin (22)
  • Shorthanded goals: Stephenson (1)
  • Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (5)
  • Overtime goals: Ovechkin (1)
  • Shots on goal: Ovechkin (266)
  • Goaltender wins: Holtby (9)
  • Goals against average: Holtby (2.60)
  • Save percentage: Holtby (.911)
  • Shutouts: Holtby (1)

Sabres vs. Caps:
  • Goals: Reinhart (5)
  • Assists: Ristolainen (7)
  • Points: Reinhart (9)
  • Plus-minus: Girgensons (plus-2)
  • Penalty minutes: Bogosian (8)
  • Power play goals: Dahlin (2)
  • Power play points: Ristolainen (4)
  • Shorthanded goals: none
  • Game-winning goals: Dahlin (1)
  • Overtime goals: none
  • Shots on goal: Ristolainen (40)
  • Goaltender wins: Hutton (1)
  • Goals against average: Ullmark (2.06)
  • Save percentage: Hutton (.926)
  • Shutouts: none

Noteworthy Opponents…

It might say a lot about the recent fortunes and turnover on the Buffalo Sabres roster that Jack Eichel is the team’s active leader in goals (108) and points (276), despite this being only Eichel’s fifth season in the NHL since he was taken second overall in the 2015 Entry Draft.  He is already 29th in goals scored for a team that has been playing hockey for 49 seasons, and with two more goals he will tie Dale Hawerchuk for 27th place on that list.  Give that he has increased his goal scoring marginally, but steadily since his rookie season, he could find himself in the top-20 in team history by season’s end (Maxim Afinogenov is 20th with 134 goals).  The same pattern plays out in points for Eichel, who with 24 more points this season would become the 27th player in team history to record at least 300 points and only the sixth to reach that mark before his 24th birthday in team history (Eichel will turn 24 next October).  Unsurprisingly, Eichel leads the team so far this season in goals (seven), assists (ten), and points (17).  He has three games already this season with three or more points, tied for third-most in the league (with John Carlson) behind only Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl (four apiece).  Eichel is 2-5-7, minus-1, in nine career games against the Capitals.

It might be a sign of Buffalo’s depth and growing maturity that they are 4-1-1 in games in which Eichel did not record a point this season.  But there is still room for youth.  The Sabres have dressed one rookie this season, winger Victor Olofsson.  And quite a rookie start he has had.  Olofsson leads all rookies in goals (six), is tied for the lead in points (ten, with Colorado’s Cale Makar and Toronto’s Ilya Mikheyev), and leads in shooting percentage (21.4 percent, minimum: ten shots on goal).  He is, however, something of a one-note wonder.  Every one of his six goals have come on power plays, a power play goal total that also leads this rookie class, as do his eight power play points.  He has been a big part of the league’s third-best power play (29.8 percent). 

For Olofsson, it has been quite a journey to this point.  He was taken in the seventh round (181st overall) of the 2014 Entry Draft, one of only three players from the last round of that draft to have appeared in at least one NHL game (Los Angeles pick Jacob Middleton has appeared in four games for San Jose, and Anaheim’s Ondrej Kase has appeared in 160 games).  But he also gave hints of this kind of production last season in a short six-game stint to end the season over which he was 2-2-4.  This will be Olofsson’s first appearance against Washington.

Carter Hutton is one of those players of whom it could be said, “he mastered timing.”  In 2017-2018, tending goal for his third NHL team, never having appeared in half his team’s games in any of his six seasons to that point (he played in 40 games for Nashville in 2013-2014), he was firmly established as a backup to Jake Allen for the St. Louis Blues.  Unfortunately for Allen, but to Hutton’s good fortune, Allen forgot how to stop a puck for a spell.  Over a 19-appearance span from mid-December to early-March, Allen went 2-14-0, 3.16, .897.  Over that same span, Hutton appeared in 22 games and went 12-5-3, 2.07, .933, with three shutouts.  It was the meat of a season in which Hutton led the league in goals against average (2.09) and save percentage (.931; minimum: 1,500 minutes).  It was impressive enough for the Sabres to sign him to a three-year/$8.25 million contract on the first day of the 2018 free agent signing period.  It would appear that he has reverted to his pre-St. Louis level of performance.  In his second season with the Sabres, he is 24-26-6, 2.88, .910, with two shutouts in 58 appearances.  In three seasons with Nashville and a game with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012-2013, he was 33-24-12, 2.56, .910 and four shutouts.  He is facing a higher shot load (32.2 shots per 60 minutes with Buffalo) than he did in his first three-plus seasons (28.3 shots per 60 minutes with Chicago and Nashville), but he might not be the solution to goaltending in Buffalo, at least not to the extent that he will play consistently at an elevated level for a contending team.  In nine career appearances against the Caps, Hutton is 3-3-2, 3.19, .888.

1.  The nine-win October was the second-highest win total for an October in team history.  The 2006-2007 team went 10-0-1 in October.

2.  “Three” is the demarcation line between wins and losses for the Sabres so far.  Buffalo is 6-0-0 when allowing fewer than three goals, 3-2-2 when allowing three or more (including goals credited in the Gimmick).

3.  Buffalo has three shutouts in 13 games, tied with Boston for most shutouts in the league through Wednesday.  Carter Hutton has two of them, Linus Ullmark the other.  Two of the three shutouts have come on the road.

4.  The Sabres have taken a lead into the third period eight times in 13 games.  They won them all, one of 15 teams with a perfect win-loss record when leading after two periods, but the team with the most wins in posting that perfect record (tied with Boston).

5.  While the Caps lead the league in second period goals scored (23), Buffalo is almost as impressive (19) and has allowed only seven second period goals, tied with three other teams for fewest in the league.

1.  The nine wins that the Caps posted in October tied a team record set in 1991-1992 (9-3-0).  The success came in a very much front-loaded schedule, the 14 games the Caps played in October tying the most they ever played in the first month of the season – 14 games in 1990-1991 in which they went 7-7-0.

2.  The difference in eras… In the Caps’ nine-win October in 1990-1991, they recorded five or more goals in eight of their nine wins.  They did it four times in their most recent nine-win October.

3.  The Caps might have had a ten-win October had they managed the third period of their game against Edmonton better, giving up a two-goal lead in the third period before losing in overtime, 4-3.  The same could be said of the October 1990-1991 nine-win team.  The circumstances were similar – in the midst of a five-game road trip, the middle three being in western Canada (Edmonton, Vancouver, and Winnipeg), the Caps taking a lead into the third period against the Jets.  But the Caps gave up goals to Stu Barnes and Ed Olczyk on power plays less than five minutes apart early in the period to lose the lead to Winnipeg and, ultimately, the game by a 6-5 margin.

4. The Caps might have been Buffalo’s “Secret Santa” in 1975.  The Sabres hold the single game record for goals scored against the Caps.  It would appear safe.  Buffalo scored 14 goals in a 14-2 win over the Caps on December 21, 1975.  Other lowlights….the Sabres out-shot the Caps in that contest, 50-16…this game remains the worst single-game goal differential in Caps history (minus-12)…the Sabres scored five of their goals in a span of 4:57, six in a span of 8:42

5.  In 81 games played on home ice in the all-time series between the Caps and Sabres, Washington has recorded only two shutouts of the Sabres – Jim Carey (January 26, 1966) and Semyon Varlamov (November 25, 2009) accomplishing the feat.  Carey faced only 20 shots in his shutout, while Varlamov faced only 25 in his.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson is one of 27 players in Capitals history to play in 500 or more games with the Caps (501), one of 29 with at least 100 goals (102), and is one of 21 Capitals to record at least 20 game-winning goals in his Capitals career (20).  He is also in his third season removed from being a Capital, having dressed for three teams – New Jersey, Boston, and now Buffalo – in two-plus seasons since last skating for the Caps in 2016-2017.  He has now played exactly 100 regular season games since leaving the Caps. 

While his overall production over those 100 games resembles his production from his seven seasons in Washington (from 0.20 goals per game to 0.22 goals per game, and from 0.58 points per game to 0.53 points per game), he is off to a better start in Buffalo with four goals and nine points in 13 games so far.  But the odd part about Johansson’s start is how little it matters, and that might be an indicator of Buffalo’s state of development, becoming a more balanced team.  Johansson has points in seven of 13 games, and the Sabres are 4-1-2 in those games.  They are 5-1-0 in the six games in which he does not have a point.  They are 4-1-1 when he skated more than 17 minutes, 5-1-1 when he did not.  They are 3-1-1 when Johansson recorded at least on shot on goal, 6-1-1 when he did not (he has nine shots in 13 games, second fewest on the team, ahead of only John Gilmour (three shots), who has played in only two games).  Johansson is 2-3-5, minus-2, in five career games against the Caps.

Washington: Lars Eller

Lars Eller is one of those players that will never bring fans out of their seats with an end to end rush, will not stickhandle through three players to roof a puck under the crossbar, won’t thread a no-look pass to a teammate for a tap-in goal.  Not often, anyway.  Eller is a player who requires multiple viewings to develop an appreciation.  Since he arrived in Washington in a trade from Montreal for a pair of second round draft picks in June 2016, he is tied for sixth in goals scored for the Caps (47, with Tom Wilson), is eighth in assists (62), sixth in points (109), fifth in shots on goal (467), fourth in faceoff win percentage (49.1; minimum: 500 faceoffs), third in blocked shots among forwards (155), fourth among forwards in takeaways (133), and is second in penalty killing ice time per game among forwards (2:07; minimum: 100 games).  He carries a lot of expectations, not as a star, but as a support player – a third line center who can provide clutch scoring (he has two of the most important postseason goals in Caps history, the overtime winner in Game 3 against Columbus in the first round of the 2018 playoffs to allow the Caps to avoid going into an 0-3 hole and the Stanley Cup-clinching, game-winning goal against Vegas in the 2018 final), taking minutes against opponents’ top lines, killing penalties. 

This season and last, Eller has been getting more ice time.  Last year, his average ice time was up more than a minute per game (16:32) over the previous season (15:18), and this season he is up again (17:00).  So far this season, his ice time can be seen as an indicator of team success.  The Caps are 9-0-1 in the ten games in which Eller skated more than 16 minutes, 1-2-1 when he did not.  Last year, that broke down into a record of 32-14-5 when skating more than 16 minutes, 16-11-3 when he did not.  In 38 career games against the Sabres, Eller is 3-5-8, minus-8.

In the end…

These are teams at different points on the arc of competitiveness.  Buffalo has missed the postseason in each of the last eight seasons and failed to reach the 40-win mark in any of them.  At the other end, Washington reached the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons, and only once in seven full seasons (not counting the abbreviated 2012-2013 season) did they not reach 40 wins, finishing with 38 in 2013-2014.  Only the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues had more wins (370 and 365, respectively) and standings points (802 and 788) over those eight seasons than did the Caps (360 and 787).  The Sabres have played well in the early going this season, but it is too soon to rule on the matter of whether they are contenders or pretenders.  This will be perhaps their stiffest road test of the young season, the Penguins being the only quality team, based on record, they have faced on the road to date.  They will find out there is still work to be done.

Capitals 5 – Sabres 2

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 14: Capitals at Maple Leafs, October 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their season-long five-game road trip on Tuesday night with their only visit to Toronto this season to take on the Maple Leafs.  Washington will look to improve on an already successful 3-0-1 record on the road trip, while the Maple Leafs try to take advantage of a home respite between road games in Montreal and Philadelphia.

Then and Now…

This will be the 149th meeting in the all-time series between the teams.  Washington has a 75-57-6 record (with 10 ties) in the series to date, 28-34-4 (six ties) in games played in Toronto.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps have dominated, going 31-15-4 in 50 games overall, 12-9-3 in 24 games in Toronto.  Washington won their last visit to Toronto, a 3-2 win last February 21st, Tom Wilson providing the game-winning goal while shorthanded in the third period of that contest.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Caps vs. Maple Leafs:

Goals: Ovechkin (39)
Assists: Backstrom (33)
Points: Ovechkin (69)
Plus-minus: Backstrom (plus-17)
Penalty minutes: Wilson (35)
Power play goals: Ovechkin (15)
Power play points: Ovechkin (29)
Shorthanded goals: Wilson (1)
Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (5)
Overtime goals: Ovechkin (1)
Shots on goal: Ovechkin (231)
Goaltender wins: Holtby (9)
Goals against average: Holtby (2.38)
Save percentage: Holtby (.925)
Shutouts: Holtby (1)

Maple Leafs vs. Caps:

Goals: Marner, Matthews (3)
Assists: Rielly (10)
Points: Rielly (10)
Plus-minus: Dermott (plus-4)
Penalty minutes: Rielly (8)
Power play goals: Marner, Matthews (1)
Power play points: Marner, Rielly (3)
Shorthanded goals: Kapanen (1)
Game-winning goals: Matthews (1)
Overtime goals: none
Shots on goal: Rielly (43)
Goaltender wins: Andersen (4)
Goals against average: Andersen (3.25)
Save percentage: Andersen (.904)
Shutouts: Andersen (1)

Noteworthy Opponents…

Mitch Marner came into the NHL the same season as Auston Matthews.  Folks remember that Matthews scored four goals in the first game he played in the NHL.  They might remember that his 120 goals since coming into the league are third-most, trailing only Alex Ovechkin (142) and Nikita Kucherov (123) through Sunday’s games.  What they, and perhaps a fair number of Toronto Maple Leaf fans, might not remember is that Mitch Marner has more points (239 to 218), more power play points (75 to 57), has more credited hits than the sturdier built Matthews (108 to 70) and has missed only five games in his three-plus seasons in the NHL (all in his rookie season) compared to 34 for Matthews. 

Not that Marner is a heretofore unknown player whose rise has been unexpected.  He was, after all, the fourth overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft (the “Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel” draft), and his 239 career points to date trail only McDavid (392) and Eichel (275).  He has 64 multi-point games in his career, tied for 16th most since he came into the league in 2016-2017, and those games mattered to the Leafs, who went 55-6-3 in those games (by way of comparison, Toronto is 39-11-10 in the 60 multi-point games Matthews recorded).  Toronto has won all four multi-point games Marner has so far this season, but it seems he has to perform at this level for the Leafs to be successful.  Toronto is just 2-5-2 in the nine games in which Marner had one or no points.  Marner is 3-3-6, minus-1, in ten career games against the Caps.

Defenseman Jake Muzzin has something no Maple Leaf has enjoyed in more than half a century, a Stanley Cup.  He won the Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2013-2014, in what was his second of eight seasons with the Kings.  Muzzin was traded from the Kings to Toronto in January 2019 for Carl Grundstrom, Sean Durzi and a first round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft.  Muzzin, who did not exhibit a particularly noteworthy offensive touch as a defenseman in Los Angeles, posted five goals and 16 points in 30 games with the Leafs to close last season.  He has continued the better than half-point per game pace this season with three goals and nine points in 13 games to date.  Odd Muzzin fact… in each of the three seasons preceding this one he finished 11th in Norris Trophy voting.  He is tied for the team lead among defensemen in goals (three, with Morgan Rielly) and is second in points (nine) and average ice time (23:11).  Muzzin is 1-4-5, even, in 12 career games against Washington.

When the Leafs visited Washington on October 16th, Michael Hutchinson got the call in goal, dropping the 4-3 decision.  It is part of a lost opening to the season for Hutchinson, who is 0-3-1 (one no decision) in five appearances with a 4.26 goals against average and .885 save percentage.  On the other hand, Frederik Andersen is hot after a so-so start.  After opening the season with a 2-2-0, 3.75, .876 record in four appearances, he is 4-0-1, 2.35, .924 in his last five appearances.  He has done it facing a ton of shots (43 saves on 46 shots in a 4-3 win over Boston on October 19th), and he has done it with light work (16 saves on 17 shots in a 4-1 win over San Jose last Friday).  Odd Andersen fact… in 201 appearances with the Leafs, not one has been in relief; he started each and every one of those 201 appearances.  Earlier this season, Andersen became the 13th goalie in team history to appear in 200 games, and he stands sixth in Leafs history in goalie wins (113).  Among the 21 goalies to appear in at least 100 games for the team, his save percentage (.917) trails only Jacques Plante (.925) and Johnny Bower (.922).  Andersen is 5-2-1, 2.82, .913, with two shutouts in his career against the Caps.

1.  No defenseman for the Leafs has a power play goal this season.  The eight defensemen to have dressed have a total of five points (all assists), four of them by Morgan Rielly. 

2.  Toronto has dressed 14 forwards this season.  All of them have recorded at least one point; three of them have ten or more: Mitch Marner (15), Auston Matthews (13) and Ilya Mikheyev (10).

3.  Shots on goal, for and against, are a big thing in games involving the Leafs.  Toronto and Vegas are the only teams in the league having taken and allowed at least 425 shots on goal (Toronto: 425 taken/426 allowed; Vegas: 459/425).

4.  Only Ottawa has spent more time at home shorthanded (51:27 in seven games) than have the Leafs (44:44 in eight games).

5.  Toronto has 26 penalties taken on home ice this season, all of them minor penalties.

1.  Washington has been charged with 30 penalties on the road so far this season, all of them minors.

2.  The Caps lead the league in power play goals scored on the road (eight), lead the league in empty net goals in road games (three), and are tied in shorthanded goals in away games (three, with Vegas).

3.  Washington leads all teams in shots blocked in road games (133) and are second in credited hits (170, trailing only Anaheim with 191).

4.  The Caps have spent more time shorthanded on the road (53:22) than any other team in the league.

5.  Washington is under 50 percent in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 in each of their last six road games (44.13 overall).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Ilya Mikheyev

Of the 24 rookies in the league having dressed for ten or more games, none are older than Toronto winger Ilya Mikheyev, who turned 25 on October 10th.  The Russian native made his way through his country’s development program, eventually ending up with Avangard Omsk in the KHL in 2014-2015, where he played for five seasons.  After recording 23 goals and 45 points in 62 games with Avangard last season and helping his team reach the Gagarin Cup final, he signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs last May paying him $925,000 this season.  Mikheyev is off to a fast start in his rookie class, tied for the lead in points through Sunday’s games (ten, with Colorado’s Cale Makar and Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson), while his four goals trail only Olofsson (six).  His plus-8 leads all rookies, as do his shots on goal (32), and his 15:55 in ice time per game is second among rookie forwards (Olofsson: 17:26).  One of those goals came in Toronto’s 4-3 loss to the Caps in the teams’ meeting earlier this season, the only time he has faced Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Players, even those with the pedigree of Nicklas Backstrom, have slumps from time to time, and Backstrom might be in the midst of one.  After going without a point in the season opener in St. Louis, Backstrom went 2-6-8 over his next eight games, the point per game pace being roughly equivalent with his career pace (0.97 points per game).  However, on the four games of the five-game road trip, Backstrom has a lone assist and is minus-1 while averaging 19:25 in ice time per game.  His 2-7-9, minus-4 start through 13 games is a considerable departure from his start last season (3-13-16, plus-4 through 13 games), although he did hit a rough patch the previous year when, after going 3-9-12, plus-1 over his first eight games, he went seven straight games without a point and was minus-2, and would suffer a 21-game stretch without a goal from Games 7 through 27.  Nevertheless, Backstrom finished last season with 74 points and had 71 in the season before that.  Odd Backstrom fact… the Caps have won all five games in which he skated less than 20 minutes so far (four of them were on the road, the other was against Toronto in Washington).  In 40 career games against the Maple Leafs, Backstrom is 9-33-42, plus-17.

In the end…

This game pits two of the top six scoring offenses against one another.  It also pits two of the ten worst scoring defenses against one another.  Signs point to a high-scoring affair, although there are the two goalies playing well, Braden Holtby with a .918 save percentage over his last four games and Frederik Andersen with a .924 save percentage in his last five games.  This being played in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs have been held under three goals only once in eight games, and the Caps having scored five goals in four of their last six road games, we think “high scoring,” even with Toronto captain John Tavares nursing a fractured finger, will win out.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 4

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 4

After spending most of their early schedule playing games east of the Mississippi River, the Washington Capitals headed west for their annual tour of western Canada after making a stop in Chicago to face the Blackhawks.  The Caps went on their road trip carrying a two-game winning streak and ended it with four more consecutive games with points.  But it might have been even better with better end-game management. 

Record: 3-0-1

After the Caps opened with a 5-3 win in Chicago to open the week, they headed west for the seventh straight season to face the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks.  Occasionally, the Winnipeg Jets are on the schedule for good measure, but these are the three teams the Caps face on this trip each year.  In six trip before this one, the Caps’ record against these three teams was 10-8-0, 2-1-0 last season.  The Caps opened with Calgary, against whom they were 4-2-0 in the six meetings prior to this on this trip.  The Caps bumped that record up to 5-2-0 with a 5-3 win.  Two nights later in Edmonton, where the Caps have had some difficulties, alternating wins and losses over their last six visits, the Caps blew a two-goal third period lead and lost in overtime to the Oilers, 4-3, for their only win-loss blemish on the week.  They came back the following night in Vancouver, quite literally in fact, erasing a 5-1 deficit in the second periods with a goal just before intermission and three more in the final frame before escaping with a Gimmick win, 6-5, to bring the record to 2-0-1 on this trip and 12-8-1 in seven trips to the western provinces.  The successful trip left the Caps tied with the Buffalo Sabres for the most standings points in the Eastern Conference at week’s end and an 8-2-3 record.  Their 6-1-1 road record was best in the league through four weeks.

Offense: 4.50/game (season: 3.77/3rd)

Washington entered the week having scored 16 goals over their previous four games, and they continued to post goals with consistency in Week 4.  Dual 5-3 wins over the Blackhawks and Flames brought the consecutive five-goal streak to three and the fourth time over a seven-game stretch in which they hit that mark.  Washington might have made it four in a row after posting three second-period goals in Edmonton, but they failed to solve the Oilers any further in dropping that 4-3 decision in overtime.  The Caps did make it four times in five games hitting the five goal mark, scoring five goals in regulation in Vancouver before a scoreless overtime and winning on a Nicklas Backstrom trick shot in the freestyle phase to earn a 6-5 decision over the Canucks.

Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four goals for the week and tied Lars Eller for the points lead (five).  Ovechkin’s four goals brought him to 667 for his career, one behind Luc Robitaille for 12th place all-time.  He had one power play goal to give him an even 250 for his career.  Those 250 goals would, absent any other goals scored, rank Ovechkin in a tie for 46th in the league since he entered the NHL in 2005-2006 and tied for 30th among active players.

John Carlson kept up his torrid pace, going 2-2-4 over his first three games of the week before his points streak was halted at nine games when he was blanked in Vancouver on Friday night.  Michal Kempny posted the same 2-2-4 scoring line as Carlson to tie for the goals and points lead among Caps defensemen.

Tom Wilson had a bit of an odd week in a pleasant way.  He was one of six Caps to register more than one goal for the week, both of his tallies being game-winning goals (at Chicago and at Calgary).

Defense: 3.75/game (season: 3.31/21st)

Too. Many. Shots. Allowed.  In four games for the week, the Caps allowed opponents 153 shots, by far the most in the league in total (Toronto allowed 132 in four games), and the 38.3 shots allowed per game were most (the New York /Rangers allowed 37.0 per game).  A team just cannot allow an opponent – any NHL opponent – that many shots on net and be successful for any length of time.  The randomness of hockey – the shots that deflect off a stick, off a body, hit a post and go in instead of out – provides that over a sufficiently large population of shots, that randomness will make life difficult for a team.  And that doesn’t get to the sheer ineffectiveness of allowing opponents access to the net.  What made the situation a bit odd, even accounting for two overtime games for the week than would have inflated shots a bit, was that only the Vancouver Canucks among the four opponents for the week finished Week 4 in the top ten in shots per game (32.3/tied for tenth with Boston).  Chicago finished 12th (32.2), Calgary 19th (30.9), and Edmonton 28th (28.1).  But only Vancouver among them was held to fewer than 35 shots in a game (34).

It was not surprising that the Caps finished fourth-worst in the league for the week in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (45.32).  They were bad at the game level, finishing all four games under 50 percent, and in situations, over 50 percent only when ahead against Calgary, when tied against Edmonton, and when in close situations against Vancouver.  The defense was entirely too loose, a matter that needs to be addressed before 3-0-1 weeks become 0-3-1 weeks.

Goaltending: 3.66 / .902 (season: 3.20 / .896)

The Caps did little in front of Braden Holtby or Ilya Samsonov to make their jobs easier, and their numbers reflected the situation.  Holtby got the first three starts for the week, and if the games lasted only 20 minutes, he would have had a spectacular week.  Holtby stopped 39 of 40 first period shots faced (.975 save percentage).  Things deteriorated from there, though.  He was still a very good 36 for 39 in the second periods of the three games (.923), but was 34 for 39 in the third period (.872) and allowed a goal on the only overtime shot he faced.

Samsonov got the last start of the week, and his problem was in reverse.  He stopped only 18 of the first 23 shots on goal he faced against Vancouver (.783) as the Caps fell behind, 5-1, in the second period.  But the coaching staff stuck with him, and Samsonov found his game late as the Caps came back, stopping the last 11 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, the Caps ultimately completing the comeback in the 6-5 Gimmick win.

Power Play: 2-for-8/25.0 percent (season: 25.0 percent/T-7th)

The power play had a “glass half full/glass half empty” quality to it in Week 4.  Yes, the power play converted 25.0 percent of its chances.  On the other hand, that is down for a second consecutive week (28.6 percent in Week 2, 27.3 percent in Week 3).  There was that 25.0 percent efficiency rate for the third staright week, but the Caps managed only eight power play chances in four games, their fewest number of chance for a week so far.  Eight teams had fewer chances in Week 4, but all of them played in fewer games (the Devils, for example, had five chances in just one game played).  The Caps also saw their chances dry up over time.  For the week they were 1-for-5 in first period power plays, 1-for-2 in second period power plays, but 0-for-1 in third period chances.

The power play was not only infrequent in deployment, it lacked a certain efficiency, despite the 25.0 percent conversion rate.  The Caps managed eight shots on goal with 13:49 in man advantage ice time, but if one takes away the eight seconds it took for T.J. Oshie to convert a power play chance in the Caps’ only opportunity against Chicago to open the week, the Caps were 1-for-7 in shots in 13:41 in power play ice time.  They closed the week without a power play shot on goal in 4:00 of man advantage ice time against Vancouver.

Penalty Killing: 14-for-16/87.5 percent (season: 84.8 percent/9th)

The best that can be said for the penalty kill in Week 4, and it ended up being a significant plus, is that it benefited from practice.  The 16 shorthanded situations faced is a season high for a single week (they faced 14 such situations in three games in Week 2).  The 14 kills beat the 13 that the Caps posted in Week 2.  The week extended an odd pattern of the penalty kill being off in odd numbered weeks (Weeks 1 and 3) and better in even numbered weeks (Weeks 2 and 4).

The Caps also benefited from timing on the penalty kill.  While they faced 16 shorthanded situations for the week, they faced only two (killing both) against the only team in the top half of the power play rankings through Week 4 (Edmonton is first at 33.3 percent).  The other 14 chances came against Vancouver (17th/20.9 percent), Calgary (18th/19.0 percent), and Chicago (26th/10.3 percent).

The Caps managed to be efficient in defending power plays, despite the frequency.  In 29:19 of shorthanded ice time, the Caps allowed only 23 shots on goal.  However, even that is a dangerous volume of power play shots to allow in a single week.

Faceoffs: 110-for-242 / 45.5 percent (season: 50.1 percent/15th)

Faceoff efficiency is not generally an indicator of win-loss success over a population of chances, but sometimes they indicate something is up.  And it certainly was in Week 4.  The Caps found the ice tilted heavily toward their end of the ice, at least in terms of zone starts.  Washington took almost twice as many draws in the defensive end (106) as they did in the offensive zone (59) in Week 4.  The silver lining is that the Caps were better than 50 percent only in the defensive end, although by a thin margin (54-for-106/50.9 percent).  On the other hand, they struggled quite a bit in the offensive end (22-for-59/37.3 percent).  It was not as if the Caps battled teams especially adept in the circle, either.  Only Vancouver among the four opponents finished the week over 50 percent for the season (55.0/second).

Individually, T.J. Oshie had a result not for the scrapbook.  He was the only player in the league who took at least ten faceoffs for the week and won none of them (0-for-11).  At the other end of the success spectrum, Lars Eller was the only Capital taking at least ten draws for the week that finished over 50 percent (33-for-58/56.9 percent).  And, if you take out his 7-for-11 in the offensive zone, the Caps were a ghastly 15-for-48 (31.3 percent).  The other three Caps to take at least ten draws for the week finished under 50 percent: Nicklas Backstrom (45.7 percent), Nic Dowd (47.5 percent), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (47.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The Caps continued their second period dominance in Week 2.  Outscoring opponents by an 8-6 margin in the middle frame for the week, the Caps finished the week leading the league in second period goals scored (22) and are one of 12 teams to have allowed fewer than ten second period goals (nine).

The surprise might have been the third period.  The Caps were on their way to losing the third period for the week, having been outscored, 6-5, in the final 20 minutes over three games, including blowing a two-goal third period lead against Edmonton in on their way to an overtime loss.  But they scored three third period goals against Vancouver to wipe out a 5-2 deficit after 40 minutes, going on to win in the freestyle competition, 6-5.  The Caps finished the week tied for third in most third period goals scored (15), but they are also fifth in most third period goals allowed (17) and have allowed the most goals in the league in the third period and overtime (20).


Something might be getting lost in the Caps’ start this season: quality of opponent.  Last season, the Caps opened their schedule facing playoff qualifiers from the previous season in each of their first five games, but the next eight games on their schedule featured no qualifiers from the previous postseason.  Through 13 games this season, the Caps opened with games against last season’s playoff qualifiers in each of their first eight games, and while they have faced only one in their last five contests (Calgary), they are ahead of last year in facing stiff competition.  It makes their four standings points advantage over last year through 13 games just a bit more impressive.

The success could be a product of allowing more than a third of a goal per game less (3.31) than they did at a comparable point last season (3.69) while maintain the same level of offensive output.  If there is an odd part of this year’s goal scoring, it is in the goals by strength -- 49 goals scored in total, but only 27 of them have come at 5-on-5.  Special teams have been an odd source of consistency at a gross level, not so much in detail.  The Caps had 15 special teams goals at this point last season, 14 at the 13-game mark this season.  The bigger difference is that last year, the split was 15 power play goals and none shorthanded, while so far this season it is 11 power play, three shorthanded goals.  To that add the fact that the Caps already have four empty net goals this season (tied with Colorado for most in the league), while they had only two through 13 games last season.

In the end…

Wins matter.  Sometimes this gets lost in the sifting through more granular data.  At that level, the Caps did not have the best of weeks – too many shots allowed, too many shot attempts at evens, too many power play chances allowed, too many third period adventures.  But they still went 3-0-1, and to top off the week, they came back from a 5-1 deficit to win a game in which Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, and John Carlson all failed to record a point (although it was Backstrom who got the game winning trick shot).  It was a week in which the underlying numbers profile suggested they go perhaps 2-2-0.  To go 3-0-1 is a good result in terms of banked wins, but they must “play” better in order to “do” better as time goes by.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, minus-2), one power play goal, 20 shots on goal, 34 shot attempts, 14 credited hits (tied for most on team), three takeaways (tied for second on team), 20:08 in average ice time)
  • Second Star: Lars Eller (2-3-5, plus-3, one shorthanded goal, 56.9 percent faceoff wins, 52.17 percent on-ice shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 (tops among forwards)).
  • Third Star: Michal Kempny (2-2-4, (first career two-goal game), plus-3, eight blocked shots)

Captain rates the week…

Three puppers

Friday, October 25, 2019

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 12: Oilers 4 - Capitals 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals skated the middle game of their western Canada tour on Thursday night when they visited the Edmonton Oilers. The Caps looked as if they had things well in hand after two periods, taking a two-goal lead into the final 20 minutes.  But the home team came back to tie it late, and then they stole the extra standings point in a 4-3 overtime loss for the Caps.

First Period

The teams went more than half of the period testing one another, the Oilers getting the benefit of the only power play, with neither mustering much in the way of steady pressure.  In the 14th minute, though, the Oilers got the benefit of a fluke. Darnell Nurse, trying to curl around the defense on his way to the net, flicked the puck forward off the stick of Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov and through the legs of goalie Braden Holtby to give the home team the first lead of the game 13:20 into the period.

Washington had a power play late in the period but had only a single shot on goal as the Oilers killed off the man short situation.  The Caps went to the dressing room down by that 1-0 margin.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the team in shot attempts (three) and shots (three).

-- Lars Eller and Nicklas Backstrom combined to go 9-for-10 in faceoffs in the period.

-- John Carlson led all Caps with 8:33 in ice time.

Second Period

Edmonton went to the man advantage in the first minute of the period, thanks to a slashing penalty to Alex Ovechkin.  Braden Holtby saved the day in the first minute of the penalty kill with a point-blank glove save on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  That would be the only shot on goal the Oilers recorded on the power play.

Jakub Vrana tied the game for the Caps in the sixth minute when knocked down a clearing attempt, spun, and snapped the puck through goalie Mikko Koskinen, making it 1-1, 5:40 into the period.

The Captain gave the Caps the lead less than a minute later.  The Caps worked the puck clockwise around the perimeter to Jonas Siegenthaler, whose drive to the Oiler net was deflected out of mid-air by Ovechkin and under Koskinen 6:27 into the period to make it 2-1, Caps.

Washington got a power play 12 minutes into the period when Matt Benning did everything but signal a fair catch in catching, turning, and tossing the puck ahead of him, resulting in his going to the box for closing his hand on the puck.  Alex Ovechkin made the Oilers pay when he was left alone in his office.  Taking a bump pass from Tom Wilson, he had time to pick a spot and dialed up high glove on Koskinen to make it 3-1, 13:40 into the period.

Braden Holtby made perhaps his best save of the season late in the period when the Oilers’ top line worked a fine passing play deep in the offensive zone, Leon Draisaitl to Connor McDavid, who found Zack Kassian steaming down the slot all alone.  Kassian’s shot was stopped by Holtby doing a full split at the top of the crease, keeping the game at 3-1.  That would be how the period would end.

-- Through 40 minutes, the Oilers out-shot the Caps, 25-19, and they out-attempted them, 45-35.

-- Ovechkin had seven shots and ten attempts through two periods to lead all players in both categories.

-- Tom Wilson didn’t have a shot attempt, but he had an assist, three hits, a minor penalty, and took a faceoff (loss) in 15 shifts.

Third Period

Edmonton got within a goal in the fifth minute of the period, Leon Draisaitl finishing a 2-on-1 break with a snap shot over Holtby’s blocker at the 4:25 mark.  The goal gave Edmonton a spark, the home team tilting the ice steeply toward the Caps’ end for the next dozen minutes.  The work paid off with another fluky goal with less than two minutes left and the Edmonton net empty.  James Neal circled out from behind the Caps’ net and fed the puck to Connor McDavid for a one-timer that snuck through Holtby and slithered slowly over the goal line at the 18:23 mark of the period to tie the game at 3-3.  That is how the regulation portion of the game ended.


Edmonton ended the matter in the second minute.  After the Caps buzzed around the Oiler net without success, the Oilers broke out on 3-on-1.  Draisaitl and McDavid executed a give-and-go to perfection, Draisaitl finishing the play and giving the Oilers a 4-3 overtime win with the goal at the 1:18 mark of the extra period.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal in the second period was the 250th of his career.  He is the fourth player in NHL history with at least 250 career power play goals.

-- That second period goal gave Ovechkin 134 career multi-goal games, one behind Mike Gartner for fourth place in the league since 1980.

-- Jakub Vrana recorded his 14th career multi-point game with a goal and an assist.

-- This was the Caps’ third straight loss in a game going to overtime, their first such loss on the road this season (they won in St. Louis in the season opener).

-- The Caps were 1-for-2 on the power play, giving them at least one power play goal in six of their last eight games (9-for-26/34.6 percent).

-- Tom Wilson, Michal Kempny, and Nick Jensen finished the game without a shot attempt.

-- Wilson and Lars Eller led the team with three credited hits apiece.

-- The Oilers out-shot the Caps, 40-28, and they out-attempted them, 69-55.

-- Ovechkin led all players with nine shots on goal and 16 shot attempts.

-- With four goals allowed, Braden Holtby has allowed three or more goals in seven of nine appearances.  On the other hand, with 36 saves on 40 shots in this game, he has stopped 135 of his last 147 shots faced for a .918 save percentage.  This was the third straight game in which he faced 35 or more shots and the second time in that span he faced 40 or more.

In the end…

The Caps got a point, but they left one on the table they should have taken with them to Vancouver.  A two-goal lead in the third period has to be wrapped up and put in the closet.  But third periods have been a bit of an adventure for the Caps early in the season.  They have allowed six goals in the third period and overtime over their last three games.  Consider this “Priority One” in things to address in the games ahead.  This was not a “good” one-point game.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 13: Capitals at Canucks, October 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The annual western Canada trip comes to an end for the Washington Capitals on Friday night when they visit Rogers Arena in Vancouver to face the Canucks.  The Caps will be skating in the back half of a back-to-back set of games after taking on the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Thursday night.  Vancouver will be returning home after a four-game road trip, but they will be well-rested after last playing on Tuesday night in a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Then and Now

This will be the 98th regular season meetings of the Caps and Canucks, the Caps holding a 47-40-1 record (with nine ties) in the 97 meetings to date.  In Vancouver, the Caps are 19-23-1 (five ties) in 48 meetings.  Since 2005-2006, Washington Is 9-8-1 against the Canucks overall and 3-5-1 in Vancouver.  The Caps beat the Canucks, 5-2, in their last trip to Vancouver on October 22, 2018.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent

Caps vs. Canucks:

    Goals: Ovechkin (9)
    Assists: Backstrom (12)
    Points: Ovechkin (17)
    Plus-minus: Kuznetsov (plus-12)
    Penalty minutes: Wilson (23)
    Power play goals: Ovechkin (5)
    Power play points: Ovechkin (8)
    Shorthanded goals: none
    Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (3)
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Ovechkin (65)

Canucks vs. Caps:

    Goals: Edler (4)
    Assists: Tanev, Boeser, Horvat, Edler (4)
    Points: Edler (8)
    Plus-minus: Gaudette, Tanev (plus-1)
    Penalty minutes: Edler (12)
    Power play goals: Baertschi (3)
    Power play points: Baertschi, Boeser, Horvat, Edler (4)
    Shorthanded goals: none
    Game-winning goals: none
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Edler (39)

Noteworthy Opponents

From ninth overall draft pick to team captain in six years.  That has been the hockey journey of Vancouver forward Bo Horvat, who was taken with that ninth overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft.  His progress and promotion are no flukes.  After spending a season in Canadian junior (London Knights) and a sliver of the 2014-2015 season in the AHL (Utica Comets), he joined the Canucks and has been a fixture ever since, his 103 goals in five-plus seasons one short of jumping into the top-25 in team history (Jim Sandlak has 104) and ranking fourth in his 2013 draft class, behind Sean Monahan (174), Nathan MacKinnon (160), and Aleksander Barkov (135).  Horvat was named the 14th captain in team history at the team’s home opener of the season on October 9th, at 24 years old the third-youngest first-time captain in team history (Trevor Linden was 20 years old in 1990-1991, and Kevin McCarthy was 22 in 1979-1980 when first named captain).  Horvat got off to a bit of a sluggish start this season, recording only one assist in his first five games.  However, he has five goals in his last four games, including a hat trick in the Canucks’ 5-2 win over Detroit on Tuesday.  He is 2-4-6, minus-3, in eight career games against the Caps.

Vancouver has had the luxury to date of dressing only six defensemen this season, going with the same blue line lineup in each of their nine games going into this contest.  Quinn Hughes is tied for the lead in points among defensemen (1-5-6) in his first full year with the club after being taken with the seventh overall pick, and second defenseman behind top overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, in the 2018 Entry Draft.  He was not even the top draft pick in his family, though, his younger brother Jack being taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils in las summer’s draft.  Hughes got a taste of the NHL last season, recording three assists in five games at the end of the season with the parent club.  He posted his first, and to date only NHL goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the team’s home opener, a power play goal that opened the scoring in an 8-2 win.  This will be Hughes’ first appearance against Washington.

The Caps will be facing their second consecutive goaltending tandem that is playing well in the early going.  Jacob Markstrom (4-2-0, 2.16, .933 in six starts) and Thatcher Demko (2-1-0, 1.64, .943 in three starts) have been superb so far.  Markstrom is in his tenth NHL season, his sixth full season with the Canucks since he was traded from the Florida Panthers with Shawn Matthias for Roberto Luongo in March 2014 and finished the 2013-2014 season in Vancouver.  Markstrom appears to have found a home with the Canucks, appearing in 60 games over each of the last two seasons after appearing in a total of just 109 games over his first seven seasons in the NHL.  He is fifth in team history in games played (192) and with 20 more wins this season would become the fifth goalie in team history with 100 wins. 

Markstrom might only be keeping the seat warm for Thatcher Demko, though.  Demko was a second round pick (36th overall and the second goalie taken) in the 2014 Entry Draft.  After completing his stay with Boston College in the NCAA in 2015-2016, a season in which he posted six shutouts in seven games and ten shutouts overall on his way to winning the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in NCAA men’s hockey, he spent parts of three seasons with the Utica Comets in the AHL while getting ten games in with the Canucks over the last two seasons.  One cannot help but notice comparisons and similarities with the path another former Vancouver goalie took.  Cory Schneider, like Demko, was among the top goalies picked in his draft class (first round/26h overall, the fourth goalie taken in 2004).  He, like Demko, is a product of the Boston College program.  He, like Demko, spent parts of three seasons in the AHL (with the Manitoba Moose).  But Schneider got caught in a numbers game in Vancouver, stuck behind Roberto Luongo for much of his five season stay with the Canucks, never getting more than 30 regular season starts.  Demko could find himself in a similar situation.  Markstrom is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.67 million per year, and an investment in Markstrom’s services past this season could force the Canucks to deal with Demko at some point as they did with Schneider, trading him to the New Jersey Devils in 2013 for a first round draft pick that became Bo Horvat.  Demko has never faced the Caps.

1.  No team has played fewer home games to date than Vancouver (three, tied with Minnesota and Tampa Bay).

2.  The 2.11 goals allowed per game so far by the Canucks would, if sustained over the entire season, be the fewest goals allowed per game for a season in team history.

3.  Vancouver has yet to lose a game this season when leading at an intermission.  They are 3-0-0 when leading after one period, 4-0-0 when leading after two periods.

4.  The Canucks play against trend in one respect.  When outshooting opponents, they are 3-3-0 so far this season, but they are 3-0-0 when they are out-shot.

5.  Vancouver has a minus-24 shot differential at 5-on-5 so far this season, tied for fifth worst in the league through Wednesday’s games.

1.  The Caps scored five goals in three consecutive games going into Thursday’s game in Edmonton against the Oilers, bringing their total of five-plus goal games to four through 11 games, one short of their 11-game total of five-plus goal games to start last season.

2.  Through 11 games last season, the Caps had allowed five or more goals four times.  Through 11 games going into Thursday’s play, that total was two games, a 6-5 loss to Nashville and a 6-3 loss to Colorado.

3.  Hey, it’s not like John Carlson was a slouch last season to start the year.  Through 11 games this year, Carlson has 20 points, but last season he had 14 at the same point (5-9-14) and was fifth in scoring at the time among defensemen, two points behind Morgan Rielly for the top spot.

4.  Through 11 games last season, Madison Bowey was the only one of 20 skaters yet to record a point.  Through 11 games this season, three of 21 have yet to do it: Richard Panik (in eight games), Tyler Lewington (five games) and Martin Fehervary (three games).

5.  Ilya Samsonov has had three starts as backup to Braden Holtby so far (four appearances), going 3-1-0, 1.84, .933.  Through 11 games last season, Pheonix Copley had two starts (three appearances) and was 1-1-1, 3.55, .882.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Jay Beagle

He did not play 500 games with the Caps, his 471 games ranking 30th in team history.  His 51 goals tied Robert Lang (who did it in 326 fewer games) for 63rd place on the franchise list.  His 116 points – 69th on the Caps’ all-time list.  But few players commanded the affection and respect that Jay Beagle did in his ten seasons with the team.  It is tribute to his work ethic, an undrafted player who joined the Capitals as a free agent in March 2008, but one who did the little things, the things that don’t get a lot of attention from casual fans, quite well.  Well enough to be the only player to have won championships in the ECHL (Idaho Steelheads), AHL (Hershey Bears), and NHL (Capitals).  Having won the Stanley Cup with the Caps in 2018, Beagle moved on to Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent, signing a four-year/$12 million contract in July 2018. 

In his first season with the Canucks, Beagle battled injuries, losing 24 games to a broken forearm and another to illness.  The absences held him to just three goals and 13 points in 57 games.  But he is still a master of the dot.  Beagle is in the midst of his 11th consecutive season winning more than half of his faceoffs, and his 56.6 winning percentage over that span is third best in the league among 167 active players with more than 1,000 draws taken, trailing only Jonathan Toews (57.2 percent) and Patrice Bergeron (58.5 percent).  Beagle is without a point and is minus-1 in one appearance against the Capitals.

Washington: Radko Gudas

Radko Gudas did not come to the Washington Capitals as the most beloved of players.  If you asked 100 fans to list their ten most-hated opponents, Gudas might have appeared on 95 of those lists.  Part of it was his playing the last four seasons in Philadelphia with the Flyers, a long-despised opponent by Caps fans.  Part of it might have been the name, which conjures a “Bond villain” image.  Part of it might have been his orneriness and penchant for playing over the edge, a player who was first among NHL defensemen over his six full seasons in credited hits (1,397) and who shows up on “dirtiest player” lists. 

But the stats mavens like him.  For example, coming into this season, he was 49.0 percent or better in each of his seven seasons in on-ice shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 and was 51.88 percent over his career.  And, he was cutting his penalty minute time almost in half, from 116 minutes in 2015-2016 to 63 minutes last season.  Gudas also provided consistent and reliable minutes.  Never in his eight seasons, including this one, has he averaged less than 17 minutes per game.  Gudas, who is not a big offensive contributor (24 career goals in 416 games before this season) is looking for his first goal as a Capital.  He is 0-1-1, minus-3, in seven career games against Vancouver.

In the end…

It would be easy to attach some deeper meaning to this last game of the annual western Canada road trip, but it just does not seem to matter much in a broader context.  Last season, the Caps went 2-1-0 on the trip, but it was in the midst of a broader slow start (8-7-3 in their first 18 games).  The previous season, the one in which the Caps won the Cup, they went 1-2-0 in western Canada, but then they went 5-1-0 in the six games that followed.  The year before that it was 3-1-0 (Winnipeg was also on the itinerary), but then the Caps went 5-3-1 in the nine games that followed.  Take it for what it is, two available standings points that are better gained than lost.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 12: Capitals at Oilers, October 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Washington Capitals are two games into their season-long five-game road trip and have put two wins on the ledger.  They will try to make it three in a row, and five consecutive wins overall, when they head to Rogers Place in Edmonton to face the Oilers on Thursday night.  Washington will enter the contest as the leader in the Metropolitan Division and the conference leader in road wins (five).  Meanwhile, the Oilers, who were 7-1-0 in their first eight games, have lost two in a row on the road, both via shutout, a 1-0 Gimmick loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday and a 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.

The ten games played by the Oilers to date cleave into two neat pieces.  The first was a five-game segment in which they went undefeated and outscored opponents, 21-13.  However, in the second five games they are 2-2-1 and have mustered only nine goals, six of them coming in a single game, a 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on October 16th.

Then and Now

This will be the 77th regular season meetings of the Caps and Oilers, the Caps holding a 39-30-1 record (with six ties).  In Edmonton, the Caps have struggled, going 14-20-0 (four ties).  Since 2005-2006, Washington Is 11-6-1 against Edmonton overall and 4-5-0 in Edmonton.  The Caps lost their last visit to Edmonton, 4-1, last October 25th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent

Caps vs. Oilers:

    Goals: Ovechkin (11)
    Assists: Carlson (11)
    Points: Ovechkin (21)
    Plus-minus: Wilson (plus-5)
    Penalty minutes: Wilson (15)
    Power play goals: Ovechkin (3)
    Power play points: Ovechkin (6)
    Shorthanded goals: none
    Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (2)
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Ovechkin (80)

Oilers vs. Caps:

    Goals: Nugent-Hopkins (4)
    Assists: Nugent-Hopkins (9)
    Points: Nugent-Hopkins (13)
    Plus-minus: Russell, Nurse (plus-3)
    Penalty minutes: Nugent-Hopkins (6)
    Power play goals: McDavid (2)
    Power play points: McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins (3)
    Shorthanded goals: Nugent-Hopkins (1)
    Game-winning goals: Nugent-Hopkins (1)
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Nugent-Hopkins (30)

Noteworthy Opponents

The recent problem for the Oilers has not been top-line scoring.  Over those last five games Edmonton has three two-goal scorers.  One of them is expected, one isn’t.  Leon Draisaitl might be expected to be on this list.  He is coming off a career season in which he doubled his 2017-2018 25-goal total into his first 50-goal season last year.  It was quite an achievement.  One will remember the Oilers as once being the most prolific of offenses with the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Jari Kurri, but Draisaitl’s 50-goal season last year made him only the fifth player in Oiler history to record at least one 50-goal season (Gretzky (8), Kurri (4), Glenn Anderson (2), and Messier being the others) and the first to do it since 1987. 

He did it last year with uncommon efficiency.  Of 370 skaters to record at least 100 shots last season, Draisaitl had the best shooting percentage (21.6 percent).  Efficiency has been a part of his game since entering the league.  Of 280 players logging at least 500 shots since Draisaitl came into the league in 2014-2015, he ranks fourth in shooting percentage overall (16.0).  He is 2-2-4, plus-2, in eight career games against the Caps.

Draisaitl has six goals in ten games for the Oilers, but that is good only for second on the club, which brings us to the unexpected hot player for the club.  In his first ten seasons in the league, James Neal was one of its most reliably consistent goal scorers.  In ten seasons he topped 20 goals ten times and scored more than 30 twice, including a 40-goal season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2011-2012.  However, for whatever reason, he was a commodity with a limited shelf life.  In those first ten seasons of his career, Neal skated for four teams: Dallas, Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Vegas, for which he played when the Golden Knights faced the Caps in the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season. 

Last year, he signed a five-year/$28.75 million contract with the Calgary Flames as an unrestricted free agent and spent the entire season soiling the bed.  In 63 games he posted a career-low seven goals.  Calgary cut their losses last July, exchanging Neal for Edmonton’s Milan Lucic and a third round draft pick in an exchange of disappointing forwards.  The change did Neal good.  He was blanked on the score sheet in his first game as an Oiler, but then he ran off seven goals in his next three games.  Neal has not kept up that blistering pace, but he does have two goals in his last five games to lead the team with nine.  He is 10-5-15, plus-3, in 22 career games against Washington.

Lost in the Oilers’ fast start has been their play in goal.  The starts have been roughly evenly split between Mike Smith (six) and Mikko Koskinen (four), two goaltenders on the far side of 30 years of age with unspectacular careers.  Smith is the better known of the pair, now in his 14th NHL season and his sixth team.  He is 13th among active goaltenders in wins (246), but through Tuesday’s games he was also tied for fourth among active goaltenders in losses (238, with Craig Anderson).  Smith comes to the Oilers on a one-year/$2.o million contract as an unrestricted free agent after spending the last two seasons in Calgary, posting consecutive 20-plus win seasons for the first time in his career.  He is off to a good start with the Oilers, going 3-2-1, 2.15, .925, with one shutout in six starts to date.  Smith is 4-9-2, 3.26, .895, in 16 career appearances against the Caps.

Koskinen has had a far different sort of career than has Smith.  He appeared in four games for the New York Islanders in 2010-2011 but then returned to Europe to play in Finland and the KHL until last season, when he returned to the NHL and appeared in 55 games for the Oilers. He was 25-21-6, 2.93, .906, with four shutouts last season, but his start this season has been more impressive.  In four starts to date, Koskinen is 4-0-0, 2.21, .934.  Koskinen has never appeared against Washington.

1.  The Oilers went to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-2007.  Since then, no team has played fewer postseason games than Edmonton (13, tied with Florida), and they have won fewer postseason games than any of the other 30 teams (five).

2.  Since that 2006-2007 season, no team has fewer 40-win seasons than the Oilers (two, tied with Vegas, who has only been in the league two years before this season).

3.  The Oilers are dead last in the league in shots per game (26.9)

4.  Edmonton puts itself in a hole late in games in terms of special teams ice time.  Their minus-18:22 in third period special teams ice time (power play less penalty killing time) is worst in the league.

5.  The Oilers have a habit of taking their foot off the gas when ahead in one respect.  Their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 when leading in games (38.14 percent) is worst in the league.

1.  Washington leads the league in road goals scored through Tuesday (24), power play goals (seven), and empty net goals (three).

2.  The Caps have five wins in six road games to date, the first time in team history they started the season 5-for-6 on the road.  Last season, they did not get their fifth win on the road until November 19th, at which time they were 5-4-1 in ten road contests.

3.  Alex Ovechkin is tied for the league lead in road goals scored through Tuesday’s games (six, with James Neal).

4.  John Carlson leads the league in road points through Tuesday (11; Steven Stamkos has nine).

5.  Second periods have been good for the Caps.  They lead the league in middle period goals scored (18), and only three teams have allowed fewer second period goals than the Caps (six): Buffalo (five), Arizona (four), and Edmonton (four).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Ethan Bear

The third Oiler with two goals in their recent 2-2-1 skid is defenseman Ethan Bear.  He is in his second season with the club after getting an 18-game look last year (1-3-4, minus-11).  That he would be averaging more than 20 minutes per game (20:50), even at this early stage of the season, is an achievement.  Bear was taken in the fifth round (124th overall) in the 2015 Entry Draft, the 40th of 74 defensemen taken in that draft.  But he is already one of only 20 defensemen in that draft to have appeared in 20 or more NHL games (28).  Odd Ethan Bear Fact… he is the only Oiler defenseman with a game-winning goal so far this season (October 18th in a 2-1 win over Detroit).  Bonus Odd Ethan Bear Fact… The Oilers have points in all five games in which Bear recorded two or more shots on goal (4-0-1).  This will be Bear’s first appearance against the Capitals.

Washington: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen has now dressed for 31 regular season and seven postseason games with the Capitals.  That is not a lot of games, but for a 29-year old veteran in his fourth NHL season, it is reasonable to expect that the break-in period would be over.  Somehow, though, it does not seem to be with Nick Jensen.  He was not expected to be a prolific offensive defenseman, but he has only two assists in six games this season and is still looking for his first goal as a Capital.  He has been on ice for 12 goals against so far, second-most among defensemen (Dmitry Orlov: 15), 11 of them at even strength, despite averaging 16:23 in even strength ice time (third among Caps defensemen).  The Caps have a shot attempt differential at 5-on-5 of minus-4 with Jensen on the ice, worst on the team among defensemen. 

It is frustrating at times to watch, since he does offer glimpses of being effective at moving the puck smartly out of his own end and letting the skill guys take over.  Jensen suffers some in a comparison with Michal Kempny who, like Jensen, was a trading deadline pickup brought on board to provide that puck-moving skill.  The Caps were wildly successful with the Kempny addition, it being what some might think was the last, missing piece in the Stanley Cup puzzle in 2018.  It has not yet been as successful in Jensen’s case, but there are only those 31 regular season and seven postseason games to date on which to judge.  Jensen is 0-1-1, even, in five career games against the Oilers.

In the end…

Edmonton fans have been a long-suffering lot.  Since going to the Stanley Cup final in 2006-2007, no team having played in one city (with the exception of the third-year Vegas Golden Knights) has fewer regular season wins than the 391 the Oilers have.  And although the Oilers have drafted a lot of high-end talent at the top of a lot of drafts since then, no team has allowed more goals (2,940).  But things are looking up, if only for the moment.  Edmonton is 7-2-1, and perhaps most encouraging, their scoring defense (2.30) is fifth in the league through Tuesday’s games.  When you have the most prolific offensive force in the league (Connor McDavid) and a returning 50-goal scorer (Leon Draisaitl), one can finally see the contours of a more complete, more consistently competitive team that will pose an interesting challenge for the Caps on Thursday night.

Capitals 5 – Oilers 3