Tuesday, January 15, 2019

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 46: Predators 7 - Capitals 2

The Washington Capitals looked tired, slow, and frankly, unmotivated on Tuesday night in a 7-2 loss to the Nashville Predators in a game that was settled early.

First Period

Nashville broke on top early when a feed from Tom Wilson to Alex Ovechkin in the Nashville zone was broken up, Mattias Ekholm collecting the loose puck and springing Viktor Arvidsson for a breakaway that beat goalie Pheonix Copley low on the glove side 3:45 into the contest.

An odd-man break gave the Preds a 2-0 lead mid-way through the period, Nick Bonino one-timing a Colton Sissons feed on a 2-on-1 break, a goal of uncertain nature given that the shot was buried in the padding at the back of the Capitals’ net and unseen by the referee until Copley dug it out.

Washington had a great chance late to cut the lead in half with goalie Jusse Saros out of the net, but Nashville backchecked well to deny Tom Wilson a chance to receive a pass and get a shot on an open net with less than five seconds left in the period.  The Caps skated off down a pair to their hosts.

-  Nashville held a 20-16 edge in shot attempts and a 9-8 advantage in shots on goal. 

-  Nicklas Backstrom had a decent first period with three of the Caps’ eight shots on goal and winning four of five faceoffs.

-  Jonas Siegenthaler defended… two hits and two blocked shots in 5:38 of ice time.

-  The Caps spread their misery around in one sense; ten different players were minus-1 for the period.

-  This was only the 15th time this season that Nashville took a lead into the first intermission.

Second Period

It took the Predators less than two minutes to extend their lead.  After beating the Caps to loose pucks deep in the Capitals’ zone, the puck went out to P.K. Subban at the left point.  His shot was redirected by Arvidsson down and between Copley’s pads just 81 seconds into the period.

Washington dug deep and pinned the Predators in their own zone, Tom Wilson eventually getting a chance from the low slot, but his backhand shot that slid through the defense and past Saros hit the far post.  But with Alex Ovechkin poised to jump on a rebound just off that post, the puck caromed back across the crease instead of out to Ovechkin for what would have been a tap-in goal.  The Caps did continue the pressure, earning a power play as a result when Subban was whistled for a tripping call.

The Caps were rewarded for their hard work when John Carlson’s slap-pass from the top of the zone was redirected by Backstrom behind Saros to cut the lead to 3-1.

The momentum the Caps took early in the period was snuffed out when, skating on a power play, they were loose with the puck at the offensive blue line and allowed a shorthanded breakaway to Arvidsson, who completed the hat trick, sliding the puck through Copley’s pad to make it 4-1, 7:52 into the period.

The Preds poured it on late in the period when Rocco Grimaldi skated into the Caps’ zone with Jonas Siegenthaler back.  Grimaldi took advantage of Siegenthaler giving ground and while spinning clockwise, backhanded the puck past Copley’s right pad to make it 5-1 at the 14:57 mark of the period.

Nashville got another redirected shot for a goal with less than ten seconds in the period when Nick Bonino got the shaft of his stick on an Ekholm drive from the left point to make it 6-1.

-  The power play goal was just the Caps’ second on the road since December 1st, and their first in more than a month, the other recorded in a 6-5 Gimmick win in Carolina on December 14th.

-  Dmitrij Jaskin had a chance to cut the lead to 3-1 mid-way through the period but hit the post behind Saros.  It was one of three posts the Caps hit in the period.

-  The Predators out-attempted the Caps, 22-17, in the second period and out-shot them, 11-10.

-  Through two periods, Backstrom had five of the Caps’ 18 shots on goal.

- Through two periods, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Dmitrij Jaskin were the only Caps not toting a “minus” on their ledger.

Third Period

With the competitive portion of the game over, Nashville managed to add to their lead eight minutes into the period when Calle Jarnkrok one-timed a feed from Kevin Fiala cleanly past Copley’s glove to make it a 7-1 game.  As if to add insult to injury, the Caps then immediately went to a penalty kill when John Carlson, who was high-sticked under his helmet visor by Filip Forsberg, let the referees have it and was sent off for the night with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a game misconduct for good measure.

The Caps did get one back late when Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie broke out on a 2-on-1.  Kuznetsov did a fine job of changing the puck position on his stick to allow him a passing angle through defenseman Yannick Weber, hitting Oshie for a lay-up over Saros’ right pad with 3:49 left in the contest.

Other stuff…

-  Nicklas Backstrom led the team with six shots on goal, his high for the season.

- With seven goals allowed, the Caps have now allowed the Predators 23 goals over the last four games these teams faced one another, and it is the fourth time in the last six meetings that the Caps allowed five or more goals to Nashville.

-  This is the second time this season that the Caps played consecutive games against St. Louis and Nashville and allowed 11 games over the two contests.  They lost to Nashville, 6-3, and St. Louis, 5-2, in Games 38 and 39.  It is the third time this season that the Caps allowed 11 goals over two consecutive games (a 6-5 loss to Anaheim followed by a 5-3 loss to Vegas in Games 26 and 27).

-  The Caps more than doubled the hits Nashville had, 27-12, but that’s largely a product of Nashville controlling play.

-  The Predators finished with a 64-49 edge in shot attempts, a 29-28 lead in shots on goal.

-  With an assist on the Backstrom goal, Alex Ovechkin extended his points streak to four games, his longest streak in a month.

- Jonas Siegenthaler had seven blocked shots, tying the season high for a Capital (Matt Niskanen had seven in a 4-2 win over Chicago on November 21st).

- Viktor Arvidsson had 11 shot attempts (six shots on goal) for Nashville.

- The seven goals allowed by Pheonix Copley is his season and career high and worst since allowing six goals in a 6-0 loss to New Jersey on October 11th, his first appearance of the season.  In 16 appearances after that he allowed as many as four goals only twice.

- The loss gave the Caps their second three-game losing streak over their last nine games.

In the end…

…ugh. ‘Nuff said.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Predators, January 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up their back-to-back set of games to start the week when they visit Nashville and the Predators at Bridgestone Arena.  The Caps will be looking to avoid their second three-game losing streak in their past nine games.

The Predators defeated the Caps, 6-3, in the last game on the 2018 portion of Washington’s schedule.  The Preds then went on to earn points in an additional six consecutive games to start the 2019 portion of their schedule before being blown out, 6-3, by the Carolina Hurricanes in the last game of a six-game road trip.

On a club with the likes of Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen as dependable scorers, it might be a bit of surprise that the leading scorer for the Predators in the new year so far is defenseman Mattias Ekholm.  He is the only player since January 1st to average at least a point per game (3-6-9 in seven games).  A fourth-round draft pick of the Predators in 2009, Ekholm has given occasional, if not consistent hints that he could be a very good offensive defenseman.  In 2015-2016 he finished with eight goals and 35 points, the point total almost doubling his output from the previous season (18).  However, he then slipped to three goals and 23 points the following season.  Last year, he rebounded to a 10-24-34, plus-25 year.  This season he is improving on those numbers.  In 46 games he already has six goals and 34 points and is a plus-19, tenth in the league among defensemen through Sunday’s games.  Multi-point games have been Ekholm’s stock and trade of late.  Before he was shutout on the score sheet in the loss to Carolina on Sunday, he had four straight two-point games and had five in seven games.  He is 3-9-12, plus-5, in his last nine games.  Ekholm is 3-5-8, plus-3, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Viktor Arvidsson leads the club in goals since January 1st (five).  He is another fourth-round draft pick of the club (112th overall in 2014) whose rise to the NHL could be described as impressive.  He spent most of the 2014-2015 season in the AHL with the Milwaukee Admirals but did get six games with the Preds.  The following season he dressed for 56 games with Nashville. However, it was in 2016-2017 where he blossomed, recording 31 goals, becoming only the third player in team history to record a 30-plus goal season at age 23 or younger (Filip Forsberg did it twice, and Patric Hornqvist did it once).  He followed that up with a 29-goal season last year, and even though he has been limited to 23 games this season due to injury (broken thumb), he is scoring goals at a faster pace – 14 in 23 games, the first time in his career to date he is averaging more than half a goal per game (0.61).  Arvidsson is 3-3-6, plus-1, in eight career games against Washington.

In goal, head coach Peter Laviolette has a difficult choice based on his netminders’ records against the Caps.  Pekka Rinne is a perennial focus of Vezina Trophy talk, and his record against the Caps – 5-1-0, 2.50, .910 – is very good.  However, he has had issues stopping the puck lately.  Over his last 13 appearances Rinne is 4-6-2 (one no-decision), 3.32, .888, with one shutout.  He has lost his last two decisions (0-1-1), allowing nine goals on 53 shots (.830 save percentage).

Enter Juuse Saros.  He also has a good record against the Caps (2-0-0, 2.50, .914) although that comes in only two appearances against Washington.  What argues for his consideration in this contest is his record over his last five games.  Since December 15th, Saros is 3-0-1 (one no-decision), 0.71, .975, with one shutout.

1.  Nashville has a tendency to give up shorthanded goals.  They have allowed seven this season; only four teams (and only one in the West – Los Angeles) have allowed more.

2.  The Predators need to control their bench.  They have been hit with nine bench penalties this season; only Minnesota (10) and St. Louis (12) have more.

3.  Expect frequent stoppages of play with Nashville.  They have taken 2,892 faceoffs this season, second-most in the league behind Detroit (2,987).

4.  If Nashville takes a lead into the first intermission, it’s a good bet that they win.  They just do not do it particularly often.  Fourteen times in 47 games they had a first intermission lead, 12 times they won (12-1-1).  Their .857 winning percentage is fifth-best in the league.

5.  Continuing the “front-runner” theme, the Predators have the second-best record in the league when scoring first (21-2-1/.875), trailing only the Calgary Flames (22-3-0/.880).

1.  The Caps have had trouble keeping Central Division teams from scoring this season, and especially lately.  Four times in nine games against the Central so far this season, including last night’s 4-1 loss to St. Louis, the Caps allowed four or more goals, and they have done so three times in their last four games against that division (twice to St. Louis, once to Nashville).

2.  Allowing power play goals against the Central has also been an issue.  In those nine games against that division, the Caps have allowed a power play goal in six of them.  They are 2-0-1 in the three games they did not allow one, 1-4-1 in the games in which they did allow one.

3.  Hits don’t matter against the Central for the Caps, at least not in a good way.  Four times in nine games the Caps were credited with 25 or more hits.  They lost all of them (0-2-2).

4.  Blocked shots have been a different matter.  Four times in nine games against the Central the Caps recorded 18 or more blocked shots.  They were 3-0-1 in them.  They are 0-4-1 in the five games they recorded fewer than 18 blocked shots.

5.  The Caps are looking to avoid a third straight loss in Nashville.  They are 1-4-1 in their last six visits to Nashville after going 4-3-0 with one tie in their first eight visits to Tennessee.  Washington has been out-scored, 25-17 in that recent 1-4-1 run.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Kevin Fiala

Kevin Fiala has had a bit of an odd year for the Nashville Predators.  The forward is fourth on the team in points (27) overall and third in power play points (seven).  However, despite logging only 15:28 per game in ice time, ninth among Predator forwards, he is a team-worst minus-8.  It is not even close, either (Kyle Turris is minus-3), and only five of 26 Predator skaters are minus players at all).  Most of the “minus” on Fiala’s ledger was posted in his first 11 games, when he was just 1-2-3 but a minus-6.  He has been a lot more productive and effective lately, though.  In 36 games since that slow start, Fiala is 7-17-24, minus-2, but he is 2-8-10, plus-4 in his last nine games.  Only twice in those nine games did he fail to record a point.  Fiala is 1-3-4, plus-2, in five career games against Washington.

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Over a seven-game stretch straddling the end of November and the beginning of December, Nicklas Backstrom went 4-9-13, plus-9, and had three games with three or more points.  Since then, however, he is 1-6-7, even, in 14 games and is without a multi-point game in that stretch.  He has just one power play point (an assist).  The Caps are 8-4-2 in those 14 games (he also missed a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers due to illness), but as the Caps take a 3-3-2 record over their last eight games into Nashville, Backstrom is just 1-1-2, minus-1 in seven of those contests.  He is, however, the Caps’ leading point-getter against Central Division teams this season (2-5-7 in nine games), and he is the only Capital with more than one power play point (1-1-2).  Backstrom is 4-14-18, minus-5, in 18 career games against Nashville.

In the end…

Everything here points to a Capitals loss.  They are almost sleepwalking through this part of the schedule, they are on the road for the back half of a back-to-back set of games, it is their third game in four nights, they might not be entirely healthy, and they don’t do very well in Nashville, which is a formidable opponent anywhere.  The Caps have the Predators precisely where they want them.

Capitals 3 – Predators 2