Monday, March 18, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Capitals at Devils, March 19th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals begin the new week with the last game of their penultimate road trip of the regular season, visiting Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, to face the Devils in a Metropolitan matchup.

The Caps will be trying to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time since the All-Star Game break in late January.  Losers to the Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday, the Capitals are still 15-6-1 in the 22 games since then.  The Devils are returning home from a six-game road trip, their longest since a seven-game trip to end October and begin November.  That seven-game trip finished 1-6-0 and set the Devils, who began the trip with a 5-2-1 record, into a tail spin from which they did not recover.  The six-game trip they just completed hardly went better, the Devils finishing 2-4-0, including a 3-0 loss to the Caps at Capital One Arena that started the trip.  And even when winning, New Jersey lost.  They beat the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night after having been eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the evening.

If there is some small comfort for the Devils, it is that this game will begin a stretch of six home games among the last nine games on their schedule.  A good thing, for while the Devils have the second-worst road record in the league at 10-25-3 (Ottawa is 9-25-2), the Devils are actually a decent (not to say “good”) team at home, their 17-12-6 record on home ice ranked 21st in the league.

Kyle Palmieri has been the most dangerous Devil on home ice this season, recording a team high 14 goals and 27 points.  Palmieri was originally a first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, taken 26th overall in the 2009 entry draft, two picks after the Caps selected Marcus Johansson, who passed through New Jersey before heading on his way to Boston last month.  Palmieri spent five unremarkable seasons in Anaheim before he was traded to New Jersey for a second-round pick in the 2015 entry draft and a third-round pick in the 2016 entry draft. 

He has flourished in Newark, a phrase one wonders has ever been uttered.  He set a career high of 30 goals in 2015-2016, his first season with the Devils, after not clearing 14 goals in any of his five seasons with the Ducks.  He has been a reliable 20-plus goal scorer since, and with 27 goals in 69 games this season is poised to set another career high.  He has hit a cold patch at home, though.  After recording 11 goals in his first 16 games on home ice this season, he has just three in his last 16 home games.  It matters.  New Jersey is 10-0-0 in home games in which Palmieri has scored at least one goal, 7-10-5 in the 22 home games in which he did not light the lamp.  Palmieri is 5-3-8, minus-1, in 17 games against the Caps in his career.

Once upon a time, Drew Stafford was a budding offensive star.  Taken 13th overall in the 2004 entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres, he enjoyed an almost uninterrupted string of years in which his goal totals improved, from recording 13 in 41 games as a rookie in 2006-2007 to 31 goals in 62 games 2010-2011 with the Sabres.  However, his goal scoring dried up thereafter.  Stafford managed only 69 goals in 246 games over the next four seasons in Buffalo before he was part of a blockbuster trade in February 2015 that sent him, Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick in the 2015 entry draft to the Winnipeg Jets for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf.  He spent parts of three seasons in Winnipeg without improving his production (34 goals in 144 games) before being traded to Boston for a sixth-round pick in the 2017 entry draft.  He lasted 18 games with the Bruins, recording four goals, before departing as an unrestricted free agent, which led him to New Jersey, for whom he has only 10 goals in 107 games over the last two seasons.  He has two goals in 48 games this season, both on the road, the latter one coming on January 2nd.  He is 0-5-5, minus-6 over his last 33 games.  In 31 career games against Washington, Stafford is 11-7-18, minus-3.

The Devils have dressed 12 defensemen this season.  One of them is a name Capitals fans might recognize.  Connor Carrick was taken by the Caps in the fifth round (137th overall) in the 2012 entry draft, a draft that Caps fans might remember for entirely different reasons.  It was the one in which they took Filip Forsberg, who they later traded in one of the more controversial deals in team history, and it was the one in which they drafted Tom Wilson, who was not universally hailed as a stroke of genius pick at the time (this is why fans – and bloggers – aren’t in hockey management positions).  It also happened to be the draft in which the Caps took defenseman Christian Djoos (two rounds and 58 picks after Carrick).

Carrick spent parts of two seasons in Washington, dressing for 37 games (1-5-6, minus-11) before he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs with Brooks Laich and a second round pick in the 2016 entry draft for Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick in the 2016 entry draft.  He played parts of three seasons for the Leafs before he was traded to the Dallas Stars last October for a conditional seventh-round draft pick.  This past February he landed in New Jersey in an exchange of defensemen, Carrick and a third round 2019 draft pick going to the Devils for Ben Lovejoy.  In 11 games for the Devils, “five” has been the magic number for Carrick – five assists, five points, and minus-5.  He is getting quite a look, though, averaging a career high 19:39 per game so far with the Devils.  Carrick is 0-2-2, plus-1, in six career games against the Caps.

1.  Only Tampa Bay and the Capitals have had more shorthanded situations faced on home ice (121 and 120, respectively) than the Devils (117) in the Eastern Conference.  But they are efficient in killing them off, their 84.6 percent penalty kill ranked second in the East, behind Tampa Bay (87.6 percent).

2.  No team in the league has taken more minor penalties on home ice than the Devils (137, five more than Tampa Bay).

3.  The Devils are one of three teams yet to score a goal in the Gimmick on home ice this season, coming up empty on six shots. Dallas and San Jose are the other teams without a home trick shot goal.

4.  In the 2018 portion of the season, covering their first 19 home games, the Devils scored more than four goals five times.  In the 2019 portion of the season, they have done so once in 16 home games, over which they have been held to two or fewer goals eight times.

5.  New Jersey has had eight players this season record at least ten goals.  Two of them – Brian Boyle (13) and Marcus Johansson (12) – were traded, and another (Taylor Hall: 11) has been out with an injury since Christmas.

1.  Washington has dressed only two rookie skaters this season – Travis Boyd and Nathan Walker.  It is the fewest number of rookie skaters dressing for the Caps since the shortened 2012-2013 season, when no rookie skaters dressed for the club.  The last time fewer rookie skaters dressed in a full season was 2011-2012, when Cody Eakin was the lone rookie to appear.

2.  If Travis Boyd appears in four more games, he will become the 17th rookie skater since 2005-2006 to appear in at least 50 games in his rookie season for the Caps.  It is quite a change from last season when four rookie skaters appeared in at least 50 games: Jakub Vrana (73), Chandler Stephenson (67), Christian Djoos (63), and Madison Bowey (51).

3.  Goalies are a different matter with regard to rookie status.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps have dressed a rookie in goal at least once in eight of 14 seasons.  However, those eight seasons cover only four rookies.  All of them played more than one “rookie” season owing to rookie qualification standards.  Semyon Varlamov was a rookie twice (2008-2009 and 2009-2010), Michal Neuvirth twice (2008-2009 and 2009-2010), Braden Holtby twice (2010-2011 and 2011-2012), and Philipp Grubauer taking the prize, qualifying as a rookie in four consecutive seasons (2012-2013 through 2016-2017).

4.  When the Caps allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Saturday night, it was the 10th time this season that they allowed an opponent six or more goals (not including Gimmicks).  It is the most instances allowing six or more goals since it happened 12 times in the 2005-2006 season, and it is only the second time in the last 23 seasons that it happened at least ten times.  At least they have three extra time losses among this year’s instances, the three points being the most earned in a season from games allowing at least six goals since they won two such games and earned four points in 1992-1993.

5.  If the Capitals win this game, they will get to .500 in standings points earned in the all-time series against the Devils on the road (currently 45-46-7 with seven ties).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Travis Zajac

When Travis Zajac assisted on a Blake Coleman power play goal on March 9th against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, he became only the fourth player in New Jersey Devils history to reach 500 points with the club, joining Kirk Muller (520), John MacLean (701), and Patrik Elias (1,025).  It gave the Devils a 2-0 lead just before the first intermission.  However, in a fashion too familiar to Devils’ fans, New Jersey lost the lead and the game, 4-2.  It was a result consistent with the latter half of Zajac’s career, which has been spent largely on the outside looking in at the postseason (two appearances in the last nine seasons, including this one), after going to the show in each of his first four seasons. 

It is a hard way to climb the all-time franchise rankings to become a top-five player, or nearly so, in a number of categories: fifth in games played (913), sixth in goals (184, one short of fifth-place Kirk Muller), seventh in assists (318, 19 short of fifth-place Scott Stevens), fourth in points (502), fifth in even strength goals (123), seventh in power play goals (51, one short of fifth-place Zach Parise), tied for fourth in shorthanded goals (11), and sixth in shots on goal (1,677, 22 short of fifth-place Parise). Six times, Zajac has received votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, twice finishing in the top ten.  His numbers do not pop off the page on a season to season basis, but he is one of the most consistent players in the game.  He is 7-20-27, plus-2, in 45 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: John Carlson

There have been 96 defensemen to dress for games on the road against the New Jersey Devils franchise since they opened for business in New Jersey in the 1982-1983 season following tours as the Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies.  Only 19 of that group have recorded a goal in New Jersey.  John Carlson can count himself among them, but one is all he has in 15 games played in the state where he started his hockey journey as a youth.  It was March 25, 2016, the only goal scored by either team in that game, an overtime game-winner 2:17 into the extra frame. 

Since that goal, Carlson is fourth among the league’s defensemen in assists (139) and points (177), while he is ninth in goals (38).  He is similarly high-ranked in the team’s all-time defensemen: fourth in games played (679), sixth in goals (89), third in assists (308), fifth in points (397), fifth in plus-minus (plus-77), third in even strength goals (63), tied for seventh in power play goals (25, with Sylvain Cote), tied for second in overtime goals (two), first in blocked shots (1,383), fourth in game-winning goals (18), tied for sixth in multi-goal games (three), and fourth in shots on goal (1,516).

At the moment, Carlson and San Jose’s Brent Burns are the only defensemen to have topped the 60 point mark in each of the last two seasons.  And, since the 2010-2011 season (Carlson’s first full season in the league), only Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle have more 30 points seasons among defensemen (nine apiece) than does Carlson (eight, tied with seven other defensemen).  Carlson has been hot of late, taking a six-game points streak into the new week (2-5-7, plus-2), and he has averaged a point a game over his last 15 games (4-11-15).  He has been a consistent offensive contributor over the course of the season, recording points in 42 of 71 games, the Caps posting a 28-10-4 record in them.  In 34 career games against the Devils, Carlson is 4-19-23, plus-24.

In the end…

The Metropolitan Division has gotten tight, and it might be the best division in the league at the moment.  Since the All-Star Game break, seven teams have 30 or more standings points through Sunday’s games, and the Metro has four of them: Philadelphia (34), Carolina (31), the Caps (31), and Pittsburgh (30).

This game has the potential to be a pool of quicksand for the Caps, who face a struggling Devils team with little to play for but pride, a game coming between contests against the league’s best team (Tampa Bay) that might be an opponent down the road.  And, it is not as if the Caps have been dominating against this team this season.  They were steamrolled in the first meeting this year, on this ice sheet, in a 6-0 Devils win.  They beat the Devils, 6-3, at the end of November, but that game featured two empty net goals to give the Caps the final margin of victory.  And, there was the 3-0 shutout of New Jersey earlier this month that also featured an empty net goal.  Pride can be a great motivator, but all things considered, the Caps’ motivation to keep pace with their elite Metro brethren is stronger.

Capitals 5 – Devils 2