Thursday, February 28, 2019

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

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Brock Nelson

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

Washington: Brett Connolly

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

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

In the end…

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

Capitals 3 – Islanders 2