Tuesday, November 26, 2019

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

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

Then and Now…

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

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Florida: Brett Connolly

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

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

Washington: Jakub Vrana

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

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

In the end…

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

Capitals 4 – Panthers 3

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 8

When the smoke cleared from Week 8, the Caps were being challenged on multiple fronts.  First, they had a 1-1-1 week that could qualify as a disappointment given that two games were at home and the other was on the road against a rebuilding team.  The Caps were also dealing with injuries to Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, and Carl Hagelin, important elements of the team’s offense and penalty killing.  Then there were the pesky New York Islanders, who show no inclination to lose much lately, going 15-0-2 in their last 17 games.  Still, the Caps ended the week with the league’s best record once more, and that is never a bad thing.

Record: 1-1-1

Week 8 brought an end to a five-week streak of winning records.  It was only the second time this season that the Caps finished a week with a .500 record in standings points won out of those available.  They have yet to post a losing week.

That result was the product of the Caps losing consecutive games for the first time since they lost three in a row (0-1-2) in Games 3-5 of the season.  Until they lost to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Caps were 14-3-2 in 19 games since those consecutive losses.

The odd part of the week might have been how it ended.  The 2-1 Gimmick loss to Vancouver was the Caps’ four game of their last seven decided in the freestyle competition, going 2-2 in those four decisions.  It was their second loss on home ice in the trick shot phase; they do not yet have a win on home ice in that portion of the game.

Offense: 2.33/game (season: 3.52/5th)

When the Caps roughed up the Anaheim Ducks for five goals to open the week, it had the looks of another in a series of weeks in which the Caps filled the opponents’ nets with pucks.  It was the eighth time in a span of 15 games in which the Caps posted five or more goals in a game and ninth time overall this season.

But things dried up in a hurry.  The Caps posted lone goals in each of the two games to end the week, the first time this season that they recorded fewer than two goals in consecutive games.  In fact, it was the first time this season that the Caps scored fewer than two goals in any game, let alone two in a row.  The last time that the Caps scored fewer than two goals in consecutive games was in Games 44 and 45 last season when they followed up a 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus with a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.

It is unsurprising that the individual results were sparse.  Jakub Vrana was the only one of six goal scorers to record as many as two for the week.  It brought his total for the season to 11, second on the club to Alex Ovechkin’s 15 (he had one this week).  The Caps had 11 skaters with points for the week, but only four of them had more than one.  John Carlson led the group with four points (all assists), and he was the only defenseman to record any points for the week.  It might bear noting that the Caps have gone seven games without a goal from a defenseman, not since Jonas Siegenthaler scored his first NHL goal in the Caps’ 5-2 win over Vegas on November 9th.

In a way it was a frustrating week.  The Caps did not lack for shots, posting more than 30 in each of the three games and at least 45 shot attempts at 5-on-5 in all of them.  For a team as efficient at shooting the puck as the Caps, fifth in the league in shooting percentage at week’s end, it might have been just, as they say, one of those weeks.

Defense: 2.33/game (season: 2.92/T-11th)

It was a deceptive week in some ways for the defense.  There is that fine scoring defense number of two and a third goals a game.  The deceptive part is in having allowed all three opponents more than 30 shots on goal and two of them more than 45 shot attempts at 5-on-5.  Oddly enough, it was against the Rangers in the lone regulation loss for the week and in which the Caps gave up more than half of the week’s worth of goals allowed that they allowed fewer than 40 shot attempts at fives (36).

The shots against are creeping up for the Caps, who have allowed more than 30 shots on goal in three straight and eight of their last nine games.  The Caps have not held opponents to fewer than 30 shots in consecutive games since Games 6 and 7, when they held Dallas and Colorado to 25 shots on goal apiece.  Since opening the season by holding the first four opponents under 30 shots a game, the Caps have allowed 30 or more in 16 of 21 games.

Goaltending: 2.30 / .929 (season: 2.79 / .909)

Braden Holtby took all the minutes in Week 8 and was very good once more.  Take away a 23-second stretch of the third period against the Rangers, in which he allowed goals on consecutive shots, and he was excellent.  His first periods (23 saves on 24 shots in three games/.958 save percentage) and second periods (31 for 32/.969) were superb.  He had the bang-bang goals scored by the Rangers in the third period of that contest, and he had a couple of window dressing goals scored by Anaheim to start the week, but he was generally at or near the top of his game, which is more a matter of consistency than the fancy shutout followed by an iffy effort.  Even with the four goals allowed to the Rangers, Holtby finished the week 10-1-2, 2.41, .925 in his last 13 games.

Power Play: 2-for-7/28.6 percent (season: 23.8 percent/7th)

The good news for the power play is, of course, the efficiency.  The 28.6 percent power play for Week 8 tied Week 2 for the top week of the season in that regard.  The bad news is that Week 2 power play converted four of 14 chances, while the Week 8 power play converted two of seven chances.  Worse, after going two for four in the first two games of the week against Anaheim and the Rangers, the Caps could not convert on any of their three chances against Vancouver in a game that ended up tied 1-1 after 65 minutes.

The Caps, while reasonably efficient shooting on the man advantage, managing two goals on 12 shots, recorded those 12 shots in 11:36 of power play ice time.  Good, if not great at generating shots.  There were a couple of surprises in the shooting detail  First, Alex Ovechkin did not lead the team in power play shots on goal for the week, Evgeny Kuznetsov did (four shots, one goal).  The second surprise was that with Nicklas Backstrom out with an injury for the last two games of the week, Travis Boyd skated 4:14 in power play time in the last two games of the week, recording three shots on goal to tie Ovechkin for second for the week.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-12/66.7 percent (season: 83.1 percent/T-11th)

There is little good to say about penalty killing in Week 8.  Four goals, at least one in each of the three games, the first time this season that the Caps allowed power play goals in three straight games this season, allowing the Rangers to score a pair of power play goals for the first time in 11 games on their schedule, and worst penalty killing efficiency by week for the season.  It was not an efficient penalty kill in other respects, either.  The Caps spent 21:51 for the week killing penalties and allowed their three opponents 26 shots on goal, too much and too many for a three-game week.

Faceoffs: 83-for-154/53.9 percent (season: 50.5 percent/12th)

The week in the circle was good overall but uneven in the detail.  A 53.9 percent faceoff winning percentage has to be considered good, but there were problems lurking underneath the top line number.  Specifically, the offensive end was a problem.  The Caps did not hit 50 percent in the offensive zone in any game and finished the week just 22 for 51 (43.1 percent).  The Caps were much better in the other end of the ice, winning all three games and finishing the week at 42 for 66 (63.6 percent). 

The trend filtered down through the individual numbers.  Six Capitals took ten or more draws for the week, and five of them finished at 50 percent or better.  None of them, however, finished the week over 50 percent in the offensive end (Lars Eller was best at 6 for 12).  All six did finish over 50 percent in the defensive end.  It was only Chandler Stephenson finishing the week 0-for-6 in the neutral zone that kept the Caps from having all six of those players finish at 50 percent or better for the week.

Goals by Period:

First periods…outscored opponents, 2-1.  Second periods…ditto.  Third periods...ugh.  The third period did in the Caps against the Rangers, who posted three of the five goals scored in the last 20 minutes of regulation for the week.  The other two goals were more or less cosmetic scores by Anaheim in a 5-2 Caps win, but one would still like to see games wrapped up more tightly than that.  Those five goals added to the third period tally represent a 25 percent increase in third period goals allowed for the season from beginning of Week 8 to the end.  There is no way to explain that away as being anything other than insufficiently stingy in the ends of games.  The silver lining, thin as it is, was that the Caps did not allow a third period goal to Vancouver in what was a 1-1 game entering the third period, thus preserving a standings point for the Caps in the 2-1 Gimmick loss.


By this time last season the Caps were hitting their stride, and with a 1-1-1 week with weak offense, this year’s club has lost a lot of its advantage over last year’s squad through 25 games.  This team has shown a better ability to date in squeezing out points, with a win and two extra time losses replacing three of last year’s seven losses in regulation at this point.  But the year-over-year differentials in goals scored and goals allowed have narrowed, reflecting the growing similarity in win-loss record.  This team does maintain significant improvements in the more difficult areas of the game – penalty killing, shot and shot attempt differentials, faceoffs, and hits, a sign that a “heavy” team might be playing just a bit heavier.

In the end…

Week 8 was not a good week, but neither was it a bad one, especially since the team missed Nicklas Backstrom for two games with an injury, and the lineup that took the ice against Vancouver to end the week featured three players – Mike Sgarbossa, Beck Malensyn, and Travis Boyd – who started the season in Hershey, and another (Richard Panik) who has lost a big chunk of the season to date with injury and has yet to find his complete game in Washington.  Still, this is one of the best 25-game starts in team history.  Only three teams had more than the 16 wins this team has (2010-2011 had 17, 1991-1992 and 2015-2016 had 18), and only the 2015-2016 team had more standings points after 25 games (38) than this team (37).

It sets up the Caps for an interesting Week 9 in which the distractions of Thanksgiving week, even with a pair of games at home around the holiday, stand against the success that the Caps have had against Atlantic Division teams this season (5-1-0) and since the realignment into current divisions, the 100 wins the Caps have against the division being more than any team not in the Atlantic and more than Atlantic teams Florida (94), Ottawa (85), Toronto (84), Detroit (71), and Buffalo (67).

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jakub Vrana (2-0-2, plus-2, 8 SOG, 14 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (0-4-4, plus-1, 2 power play points, 5 blocked shots, 24:44 average ice time)
  • Third Star: Braden Holtby (1-1-1, 2.30, .929)

Captain rates the week…

Two puppers

Saturday, November 23, 2019

A ONE-Point Afternoon: Washington Capitals -- Game 25: Canucks 2 - Capitals 1 (OT/Gimmick)

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their season series with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon at Capital One Arena.  It was a close-fought game, beginning to end, with the teams exchanging single goals in the hockey portion of the contest.  After 65 minutes the teams went to the Gimmick, where it took seven rounds before a goal would be scored.  Unfortunately for the Caps, that goal was scored by the visitors, and Vancouver skated off with a 2-1 win.

First Period

It was not a first minute goal, but the Caps didn’t waste much more time getting the early lead.  Lars Eller outmuscled Quinn Hughes to get possession of the puck and position out of the left wing corner and along the boards.  It enable Eller to slide a pass to Jakub Vrana in the left wing circle, and Vrana one-timed the puck over goalie Jacob Markstrom’s left shoulder to make it 1-0 just 2:22 into the game.

There was a lot of back and forth with not a lot of production, but the Caps got a chance to change that when Jake Virtanen was sent off at 10:29 for high-sticking Lars Eller.  Marstrom kept the Caps at bay though, first stopping a one-timer from Alex Ovechkin and then, just as the power play expired, snuffing out a flurry at the top of his crease.

The Canucks got their first power play chance when Chandler Stephenson was charged with interference right off a faceoff at the 12:42 mark.  Just 62 seconds later, Elias Petterson drew a second penalty, a tripping call to Richard Panik to put the Caps down two men for 58 seconds.  It got worse when Michal Kempny lost his stick off a faceoff, giving the Canucks what amounted to a 5-on-two and a half advantage.  It allowed J.T. Miller to circle out unchallenged to the top of the zone, where he fed Pettersson for a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby over his right shoulder at the 14:00 mark to tie the game.  Although the Canucks had a late chance on the 5-on-4 portion of the power play, Holtby flashed a pad on an attempted redirect to keep the game tied and get the Caps out of the man disadvantage.

The Caps had a late flurry in the Vancouver zone, but nothing that got all the way to Marsktrom, and the teams went to the dressing room tied after one period, 1-1.

-- The Caps had an 11-7 edge in shots on goal in the first period and a 19-14 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov won six of eight faceoffs in the period.

-- Alex Ovechkin had a pair of shots on goal and a pair of hits…no goals.

-- Radko Gudas led the Caps with four credited hits; Tom Wilson had three.  They, and Ovechkin, were the only Caps credited with hits in the period.

Second Period

Early in the period Vrana almost had his second goal, a shot from the right wing that slithered through Markstrom and toward the goal line.  But Tyler Myers swooped in behind Markstrom and swept the loose puck off the goal line to preserve the tie.

It was not the last chance Vrana had in the period, he had a fine one in the ninth minute, but shortly thereafter Siegenthaler was sent off on a hooking call, the penalty coming at 8:37.  As the penalty was expiring, the Canucks had a chance, a shot by Tanner Pearson sneaking though Holtby, the puck lying behind him.  But his teammates came to the rescue as Holtby spun and covered the puck to keep the game tied.

Washington had their own chance coming out of a television timeout, an Ovechkin shot redirected by Evgeny Kuznetsov off the post to Markstrom’s left and out.

Late in the period, Eller and Petterson got locked up inside the Vancouver blue line, and it was Eller sent off for hooking at 16:20 to put the Canucks on their fourth power play of the afternoon.  The Caps killed off that penalty, and then Tom Wilson drew an interference penalty at the end of his shift from Tyler Myers with 46 seconds left in the period.  The Caps had a chance to convert in the dying seconds when an Ovechkin one-time slap-pass was redirected by Kuznetsov just wide to Markstrom’s left.  The teams went to the second intermission tied, 1-1.

-- The Canucks flipped the script in the second period, recording 11 shots to the Caps’ seven, reversing the first period result, leaving the teams even at 18 shots apiece through two periods.  Vancouver had 23 shot attempts to the Caps’ 16 to take a 37-35 edge in that department.

-- Jakub Vrana led the Caps through two periods with four shots on goal and six shot attempts.

-- The Caps had a 23-14 edge in faceoff wins through two periods, Evgeny Kuznetsov (9-for-12) and Lars Eller (8-for-12) going a combined 17-for-24 (70.8 percent).

Third Period

The Caps opened the period with the last minute and change on the power play that carried over from the previous period, but they could not solve Markstrom.  It set the stage for some further threatening activity by the Caps in the Vancouver zone that paid off with the Caps drawing an interference call on Pettersson 4:43 into the period to put the Caps on a power play.  Washington had a couple of fine chances, including a pair of unsuccessful one-timers by Ovechkin, but Vancouver skated off the shorthanded situation, and the game remained tied.

The teams went back and forth, but Markstrom and Holtby turned everything reaching them aside, and the Canucks foiled a breakaway by T.J. Oshie in the last 15 seconds.  The teams went to overtime tied, 1-1.


Evgeny Kuznsetsov was sent off 1:25 into the extra frame on a hooking call, and the Caps went shorthanded for the fifth time in this game.  The Caps’ penalty killers were up to the challenge though, Holtby turning away two shots, and the teams played on.  Neither team could score, though, and it went to the freestyle competition.

The Gimmick

Six rounds, nothing.  Dmitry Orlov denied in Round 7, Bo Horvat wins it for the Canucks.

Other stuff…

-- Jakub Vrana’s first period goal was his 11th of the season and his 11th even strength goal.  Pending later action, Vrana has more goals with all of them recorded at even strength than any other player in the league (three other players had 10 even strength goals among their 10 total goals).

-- This was the Caps’ 11th extra time game this season.  They are 6-5 in those contests, 3-2 in the Gimmick.

-- Going to extra time, Washington avoided consecutive losses, maintaining their streak of games without consecutive losses to 25 this season.  If you are thinking that is impressive, consider that the Caps went the entire 2015-2016 season without losing consecutive games in regulation.

-- This was the Caps’ third loss to a Pacific Division team this season.  All of them have come in extra time.  The others were to Arizona (in a Gimmick) and Edmonton (in overtime).

-- The Caps finished the hockey portion of the contest with a 33-32 edge in shots on goal, but Vancouver had a 64-61 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the team with seven shots on goal and 12 shot attempts.

-- Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson led the Caps with seven credited hits apiece.

-- Wilson led all Caps with three blocked shots.

-- Both Lars Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov went 11-for-16 on faceoffs.  The rest of the team was 7-for-21.

-- Even with this loss, Braden Holtby is 10-1-2, 2.44, .925 in his last 13 appearances.

In the end…

Whether it is missing Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, and Carl Hagelin, or it is just part of the ebb and flow of a long season, the Caps are in a bit of a funk.  They are now 3-2-2 in their last seven games after going 10-0-1 in their previous 11 games.  Backstrom’s absence is felt in a lot of ways, disrupting the line assignments for the other centers, while his absence on the power play had obvious effects.  And, the New York Islanders are within striking distance – four points back with five games in hand – of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division that the Caps occupy.

The team now has a few days to get straight with their game and hopefully get healthier before the Thanksgiving wrap around games against Florida and Tampa Bay later in the week.  For now, just give thanks that the Caps are still grinding out points, even if they are one at a time.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Canucks vs. Capitals, November 23rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals open a three-game home stand on Saturday afternoon when they host the Vancouver Canucks at Capital One Arena.  The Caps have slipped a bit of late, splitting their last four decisions and losing in their last contest, a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers, the first time they lost on the road in regulation in almost six weeks, since a 6-5 loss in Nashville to the Predators on October 10th.  Vancouver, who got off to a surprising 9-3-2 start to the season, has just two wins in their last nine decisions (2-5-2), but one of them was a 6-3 decision in Nashville on Thursday night.

Then and Now…

The Caps and Canucks will meet for the 99th time in their all-time regular season series on Saturday.  The Caps hold a 48-40-1 (nine ties) advantage over Vancouver.  It will be the 50th time that the teams met in Washington with the Caps having a 28-17-0 (four ties) record in the first 49 meetings in D.C.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 10-8-1 overall against the Canucks, 6-3-0 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Last season, 20-year old Elias Pettersson won the Calder Trophy, the second winner of the rookie-of-the-year award in Vancouver Canuck history and first since another 20-year old – Pavel Bure – won the award in 1992.  He led all rookies in goals (28), assists (38), points (66), power play goals (10), power play points (22), game-winning goals (7), shooting percentage (19.4; minimum: 50 shots), and led all rookie forwards in average ice time (18:14).  His winning was no fluke.  And, while Vancouver struggled to a 35-36-11 record last season, his performance gave an indication that he would be the straw that stirs the drink for the Canucks.  Vancouver was 25-13-5 in those games in which he recorded a point, 5-19-4 in the games he played in but did not score a point.

Pettersson is on a pace to do even better this season.  Through 23 games he is 9-19-28, a 32-68-100 point pace per 82 games.  He has displayed an ability to score points in bunches.  He has eight multi-point games this season (tied for 11th in the league) and four games of three or more points (tied for fifth).  Only twice in the 15 games in which he recorded at least one point have the Canucks lost in regulation (11-2-2), and they have yet to win a game in which Pettersson did not record a point (0-6-2).  Odd Pettersson fact… Vancouver is 3-7-4 in 14 games in which he skated 18 or more minutes, 8-1-0 in games in which he skated less than 18 minutes.  Pettersson has points in four of his last five games (3-4-7) and is 2-0-2 in two career games against the Caps.

The only skater younger than Pettersson to take the ice for the Canucks this season is defenseman Quinn Hughes.  The seventh-overall pick of the 2018 Entry Draft got a peek at the NHL last season as a 19-year old, posting three assists in five games.  This season, he has come on like gangbusters.  He is second among rookie skaters with 17 points, trailing only fellow defenseman Cale Makar.  He leads all rookie skaters in power play points (12), and he is second in average ice time (20:04) only to Edmonton defenseman Ethan Bear (21:07).  Quinn is tied fourth among all defensemen in multi-point games (five), and unsurprisingly the Canucks have points in all of them (4-0-1).  There is still work to do, though, to become a foundational defenseman.  The Canucks are just 1-7-3 in 11 games in which he skated more than 20 minutes, 9-1-1 in the 11 games he skated less than 20 minutes.  Odd Hughes family fact… the Brothers Hughes – Quinn and Jack, the latter taken first overall by New Jersey in last summer’s Entry Draft – are second and third among rookie skaters in giveaways, Quinn with 21 and Jack with 18.  Hughes has faced the Caps once, recording an assist in Vancouver’s 6-5 Gimmick loss to the Caps on October 25th.

Goaltender Jacob Markstrom has had a challenging year.  He lost his first two decisions but rallied to win his next two.  But then he was granted a leave of absence to tend to a family matter and was out of the lineup for eight days.  Upon returning, he went 3-0-1 in four appearances, but then the wheels got wobbly.  He dropped a pair of 2-1 overtime decisions, one to Anaheim and the other to St. Louis, and then he lost four straight decisions in regulation, stopping only 107 of 122 shots (.877 save percentage), that culminated in a six-goals-allowed outing against Dallas last Tuesday.  He rebounded with a 45-save effort in a 6-3 win over Nashville on Thursday.

Earlier this season, Markstrom became only the fifth goaltender in team history to appear in 200 games for the Canucks.  He is similarly ranked in wins, fifth with 82.  With a win in this game, should he get the call, Markstrom would even his win total with regulation losses with the Canucks at 83 apiece.  Markstrom is still looking for his first career win against the Caps.  He has a 0-7-1, 3.59, .887 record in eight career appearances against Washington.

1.  The Vancouver Canucks have the best power play among current visiting teams against Washington since the Caps came into the league.  Vancouver has a 26.6 percent power play in the D.C. portion of the all-time series.  Three teams, either defunct or having moved to other cities, were better – Cleveland Barons (60.0 percent, but that was 3-for-5 in five games), Atlanta Flames (58.3 percent…ok, 7-for-12 in 12 games), and the Minnesota North Stars (29.1 percent).

2.  This Vancouver power play bears watching.  No team in the NHL this season has had more power play chances on the road than the Canucks, and it’s not close.  Vancouver has had 61 chances in 13 road games, while Colorado has had 49 chances in 13 road games.  It is not all that surprising that the Canucks lead the league in power play goals scored on the road (15); the Caps are second with 12.

3.  On the other side, only Calgary has taken more minor penalties on the road (64) than the Canucks (55, tied with the Capitals).

4.  Vancouver either doesn’t initiate or doesn’t get credit for doing so on the road.  Their 14.3 credited hits per road game are fewest in the league.

5.  The Canucks are the best team in the West in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 on the road (52.31 percent).  They trail only Toronto (54.34) and Pittsburgh (54.47) in the league.

1.  In 49 games against the Canucks on home ice, the Caps have had 169 power play chances and were shorthanded 169 times. 

2.  The vaunted Caps power play needs more vaunt on home ice.  Only seven teams have scored fewer power play goals at home than the Caps (seven).  It might be worth noting that the New York Islanders, that team with the 16-game points streak, is one of them (five).

3.  On the other side, only eight teams have allowed fewer power play goals on home ice than the Caps (five).

4.  The Caps are still looking for the first point posted by a rookie this season.  Granted, there haven’t been many opportunities.  Tyler Lewington (six games), Martin Fehervary (three games), and Beck Malenstyn (one game) have not had much lineup exposure.

5.  Six Capitals have at least 18 points (John Carlson (36), Alex Ovechkin (25), Evgeny Kuznetsov (22), Jakub Vrana (18), Tom Wilson (18), and Nicklas Backstrom (18)).  Through 24 games last season, the Caps had four such players, but all with more than 20 points (Ovechkin (28), Backstrom (28), Carlson (26), and Kuznetsov (21)).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: J.T. Miller

Elias Pettersson is the flash, Brock Boeser is the home grown hero (Canucks’ first round draft pick in 2015). But there is Jonathan Tanner “J.T.” Miller, second on the team in goals (nine, tied with Pettersson, to Boeser’s 10).  With 22 points, he is one of three Canucks with more than 20 (Pettersson with 28 and Boeser with 22).  He is tied for third on the club in power play goals (four, with Petterson).  He is one of three players with a four-point game for the Canucks this season.  Yes, Pettersson and Boeser are the others.

Miller has been a good investment for the Canucks so far in this, his first season with the club after the club acquired him from Tampa Bay last June for Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third round draft pick, and a conditional 2020 first round pick (if the Canucks are in the 2020 draft lottery, the pick becomes a first rounder in 2021).  The nine goals and 13 assists he has posted in 23 games to date put him on a pace for what would be his first 30-goals season (a pace for 32 goals) and within shouting distance of 50 assists (46).  Both would be career highs; he had 23 goals and 35 assists split between New York and Tampa Bay in 2017-2018.  This is the 26-year old Miller’s third stop in eight NHL seasons after spending his first five-plus seasons with the New York Rangers and another season and change with the Lightning.  He is 3-6-9, minus-7, in 24 career games against the Caps.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie is a study in competing forces – production and presence.  Through 24 games this season, Oshie has ten goals and is on a pace to post 34 goals, which would eclipse his career high of 33 posted with the Caps in 2016-2017.  He is also on a pace for 51 points, which would be his fourth year in five in Washington that he recorded at least 50 points.  That is the good news and where we now turn to the “don’t jinx it” portion of this section.  In his first four seasons with the Caps, Oshie missed 37 regular season games, most of them to a variety of injuries.  As Caps fans know by now, this is what comes with a player whose fearless and relentless style of play puts him in harm’s way and at risk to injury. 

But there has been an odd feature to Oshie’s absences, at least in the regular season.  It might be an indicator of just how deep this team is that in his four-plus seasons with the Caps, the club is averaging 1.37 standings points earned per game when he is in the lineup.  In the 37 games he missed, they are averaging 1.43 standings points earned per game.  On the other hand, Oshie has posted a goal in 92 games as a Cap, and the team is 73-8-11 in those games.  Then there is that whole trick shot thing.  Since the league instituted their Gimmick in 2005-2006, 76 players have taken at least 50 shots in the freestyle competition.  Oshie has a better shooting percentage (52.4) than all but one (Erik Christensen: 52.7 percent).  Only Frans Nielsen has more game-deciding goals in the Gimmick (23) than Oshie (20).

Oshie is also, to put it in corny fashion, a “Kanuck Killer.”  For example, despite not having skated for the St. Louis Blues since 2014-2015, he remains tied for second among Blues still active in the league in points posted against Vancouver as a Blue (19, with David Backes).  His 0.90 points per game against Vancouver as a Blue is tops among active NHL players who played at least ten games against the Canucks while with St. Louis.  His scoring against the Canucks has not been as impressive as a Capital (3-2-5 in nine games with the Caps), but he is tied for fifth among current Capitals in scoring against Vancouver.  Overall, Oshie is 9-15-24, plus-3, in 30 career games against Vancouver.

In the end…

The point we have made in the past about successful teams is not that they lose a game, they have an ability to keep “one” from becoming “two” or more.  The Caps have not lost consecutive games in regulation this season.  Since starting the season 2-1-2 and enduring three consecutive losses (two in overtime), they are 14-3-2 and have not lost consecutive games of any sort, regulation, extra time, or a combination of both.  But the Caps are a bit unsteady of late with a 3-2-1 record in their last six games, two of the wins coming in the Gimmick.  Perhaps some home cooking for a few games will set them back on the right path.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 24: Capitals at Rangers, November 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head to the Big Apple on Wednesday night in a nationally-televised matchup with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  The contest will feature teams on different paths.  The Caps, a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, are 13-1-2 in their last 16 games and have the best road record in the league (10-1-1).  The Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild and a record that reflects it, tied for fewest standings points in the Metropolitan Division (18, with New Jersey and Columbus).  They have alternated wins and losses over their last eight contests on home ice (4-2-2).

Then and Now…

This will be the 224th meeting of the clubs in the history of the regular season series.  The Caps have faced only one opponent more times in team history (Pittsburgh, 225 games).  Washington has a 108-90-7 (18 ties) record against the Blueshirts.  With a win in this game, the Caps would even their all-time record in New York as they carry a 49-50-3 (nine ties) record into this contest.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 31-22-4 against the Rangers, 14-12-3 in games played at Madison Square Garden.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Look at that table of active leaders among the Rangers against the Caps.  It says something that so many current “active” Rangers have made such a small dent in the statistics against the Capitals, a reflection of a team rebuilding.  Players like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello, who would be noted in that table, are gone.  But that doesn’t mean the Rangers are without star power or are incapable of still making a splash in free agency.  They signed one of, if not the biggest prize in the unrestricted free agent market last summer in Artemi Panarin.  It was a huge contract to which Panarin was signed -- $81.5 million over seven years, his $11.6 million annual cap hit second in the league only to Connor McDavid ($12.5 million). 
The burden seems not to have weighed Panarin down too much; his nine goals in 18 games lead the team, as do his 23 points.  It is the fastest goal-scoring start of his five-year career, putting his career best of 31 goals with Chicago in 2016-2017 in jeopardy.  His goal scoring has come as a product of higher shot volumes (3.17 per game is a career high) and efficiency (15.8 percent is his highest since he was 16.0 percent in his rookie year).  The problem for the Rangers, though, is it has not been enough.  In the nine games in which he has a goal, the Rangers are just 5-4-0.  But not getting his contributions proves a bigger problem, the Blueshirts going 3-4-2 in the nine games in which he does not have a goal.  His ability to set up other might matter more.  New York is 7-3-1 in ten games in which he has at least one assist, 1-5-1 in the seven games he does not have a helper.  In 13 career games against the Caps, Panarin is 6-4-10, plus-3.

If Artemi Panarin’s goal scoring is not a surprise, perhaps Filip Chytil’s is.  A 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft, the 20-year old center is already fifth in his draft class in games played (93) and fourth in goals scored (18).  He has six goals in only nine games so far this season, tied for second on the club and is more than half way to topping the 11 goals he scored last season, his “rookie” season (he played nine games in 2017-2018).  The odd fact in his limited action to date is another reflection of a team still growing.  Chytil’s only two-goal game this season came on the road in a tough venue, Amalie Arena in Tampa against the Lightning last Thursday.  But they came in the third period of a game that was 8-1 in favor of the Lightning through two periods.  The Rangers lost, 9-3.  You would have to think a correction was in order, though.  Chytil’s six goals come on 17 shots, a 35.3 shooting percentage.  Since shots on goal and shooting percentage became league statistics in 1959-1960, only three players finished a season with more than 100 shots and a shooting percentage over 30 percent, and the most recent of them (Craig Simpson, who shot 31.6 percent on 177 shots) did it more than 30 years ago, in 1987-1988.  Chytil is 0-2-2, minus-1, in six career games against the Caps.

When Marc Staal broke into the NHL in 2007-2008, the defenseman skated with future Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr (well, soon) and Brendan Shanahan.  Now, he skates on a defensive squad in which six of the other seven defensemen to have dressed this season are 25 years old or younger.  At 32 years of age, he is the oldest member of the blue line, fourth in team history in games played by defensemen.  But he was a healthy scratch in three games ending October and beginning in November, and now he is out following ankle surgery to address an infection.  That leaves the “veteran” duties on the blue line to Brendan Smith.  It is a difficult situation in which Smith finds himself, a player of modest achievements in his nine year career, parts of four spent with the Rangers.  
Smith’s role might be seen as one similar to a defenseman such Jamie Heward, who played in 123 games for the Caps in the first two seasons coming out of the 2004-2005 lockout, when the club was rebuilding and integrating young stars into the lineup.  A veteran presence such as that can provide some stability and instruction even as a team struggles to find its way.  Smith will not wow anyone with numbers; despite being a 27th overall draft pick (Detroit, 2007), he has only seven goals and 29 points in 149 games as a Ranger.  And this season, he has logged more than ten minutes of ice time only 11 times in 18 games.  Watching him is the sort of thing more devout hockey fans might appreciate.  He will not be a big numbers driver, and he seems unlikely to be a player that will be on this roster when the Rangers return to competitiveness.  But his is an important role to fill for a team that is working toward reaching that competitive level once more, that of the stable veteran influence.  It is a role that should be appreciated.  Smith is 0-4-4, even, in 17 career games against Washington.

1.  The Rangers have the second-worst shots-per-game differential in the league (minus-6.8); only Chicago is worse (minus-7.1).

2.  New York does not have a good penalty kill on home ice (77.8 percent/25th), and the struggles are getting worse. The Rangers were 13-for-15 (86.7 percent) in their first five home games, but they are just 15-for-22 (68.2 percent) in their last six games at home.

3.  New York is a young team, and that means one looks for improvement.  Special teams are an example.  In their first five home games, the Rangers were 2-for-15 on the power play (13.3 percent), 14-for-18 on the penalty kill (77.8 percent).  In six home games since, they are 7-for-22 on the power play (31.8 percent), 14-for-18 on the penalty kill (77.8 percent).  Well, at least the penalty kill is consistent.

4.  Eight defensemen have dressed for the Rangers this season; seven have goals.  Libor Hajek, despite dressing for all 18 games, has yet to light the lamp.

5.  The Rangers are dead last in the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (43.11), and it is just as bad at home, ranking last at 43.22 percent.

1.  Despite the Caps exceptional road record, they are still lagging in shot attempts.  Their shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (48.88) ranks just 16th on the road.

2.  That shot attempts ranking might be a reason why the Caps have allowed the fourth-highest number of shots in road games this season (385, tied with Dallas, both teams playing 12 road games).

3.  Washington has more power play goals on the road (11) than any other team in the league.

4.  Only Vegas has more shorthanded goals scored on the road (four) than the Caps through Monday (three).

5.  No team has more empty net goals scored on the road through Monday than the Caps (three, tied with St. Louis).  These Caps…they score a lot of different ways on the road.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Henrik Lundqvist

We are inching toward the end of one of the great goaltending careers in NHL history.  Henrik Lundqvist owns or is close to owning every meaningful record in team history: games (868/first), wins (453/first), goals against average (2.42, second among goalies with at least 200 games, and Dave Kerr (2.07) last played in 1941), save percentage (.918, first among goalies with at least 100 games), and shutouts (63/first).  But now he is more or less splitting time with 23-year old Alexandar Georgiev, taking ten starts to eight for Georgiev.  Lundqvist and Georgiev have identical 4-4-1 records, Georgiev having the edge in goals against average (3.22 to 3.54 for Lundqvist) and save percentage (.906 to .905 for Lundqvist).

If there has been a disturbing development in Lundqvist’s game it is that five times in his ten starts he had a save percentage under .900.  Unsuprisingly, the Rangers could not score their way out of such difficulties and have a 0-4-1 record in those five games (Lundqvist had a no-decision in a loss to Boston).  Lundqvist has been slipping slowly, but inexorably, for a few years now, paralleling the fortunes of the team in front of him.  After posting seven consecutive seasons with a save percentage of .920 or better, he has not been above .915 in any of the last four seasons.  After posting goals against averages under 2.50 in each of his first 11 seasons, he has not been below 2.74 in any of the last four seasons, and his 3.54 goals against average so far this season is almost half a goal worse than his next worst GAA, 3.07 set last year.  Lundqvist is 21-13-7, 2.80, .905, with four shutouts in 41 career games against the Caps.

Washington: John Carlson

As if John Carlson needs a big stage at the moment, given the historic start to his season, he will get one in New York on Wednesday.  He has to be considered the favorite among Norris Trophy candidates as the schedule passes the one-quarter mark.  Among defensemen, he is second in goals (eight, to Dougie Hamilton’s nine), first in assists (26, nine more than Cale Makar), first in points (34, 12 more than Makar), first in plus-minus (plus-15, two better than Brian Dumoulin and Zdeno Chara), first in points per game (1.48, to 1.10 for Makar and Hamilton), first in even strength points (23, to 14 for Ryan Ellis), tied for first in power play points (11, with three other defensemen), and tied for first in shots on goal (66, with Roman Josi).  He has points in 19 games this season, more than any other defenseman (Hamilton has points in 16 games).

And, if you think Carlson’s numbers this season are not Norris-worthy, his career to date has an almost bizarre parallel with a defenseman who has won a Norris Trophy, 2017-2018 winner Victor Hedman.  Consider:

One might consider Carlson among, if not the most underrated defenseman, certainly on the offensive side of the puck, of his generation.  Carlson is 5-20-25, minus-1, in 34 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

The Caps are a contender; the Rangers are a rebuilder.  Frankly, that is where the analysis might end.  But hockey is played on an ice sheet, not a spreadsheet, and a nationally-televised game in The World’s Most Famous Arena is always a challenge for a visitor.  But this Capitals team has met almost every challenge thrown at it on the road this season, and this should prove no different.

Capitals 4 – Rangers 2