Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 10: Capitals at Blackhawks, October 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head on the road to close the weekend with a Sunday evening matchup in Chicago against the Blackhawks.  The Caps won a second consecutive game on Friday night, beating the New York Rangers, 5-2, to match their longest winning streak of the season (they won their first two games of the season).  The Blackhawks have also won two in a row, besting the Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets (the latter in overtime) after opening the new season with three straight losses, one of them in overtime.

Then and Now

This will be the 100th meeting of the teams in the all-time series between the clubs.  The Caps have a 44-43-1 edge (with 11 ties).  Chicago has been rather inhospitable, the Caps sporting a record of just 15-28-0 (six ties) in 49 games in the Windy City.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 11-6-0 against the Blackhawks overall, 3-6-0 in Chicago.  The Caps are 8-3-0 in the last 11 meetings between the clubs, all three losses coming in Chicago.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent

Caps vs. Blackhawks:
  • Goals: Ovechkin (9)
  • Assists: Backstrom (10)
  • Points: Ovechkin (18)
  • Plus-minus: Orlov (plus-8)
  • Penalty minutes: Ovechkin (38)
  • Power play goals: Ovechkin (2)
  • Power play points: Backstrom (6)
  • Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (2)
  • Overtime goals: Backstrom (1)
  • Shots on goal: Ovechkin (66)

Blackhawks vs. Caps:
  • Goals: Toews (10)
  • Assists: Toews (9)
  • Points: Toews (19)
  • Plus-minus: DeBrincat, Seabrook (plus-4)
  • Penalty minutes: Seabrook (9)
  • Power play goals: Toews (4)
  • Power play points: Toews (6)
  • Game-winning goals: Toews, Kane, Saad (1)
  • Overtime goals: none
  • Shots on goal: Kane (55)

Noteworthy Opponents

Five Blackhawks are tied with two goals apiece to lead the team.  Patrick Kane is one of them and the active career leader among Blackhawks (358).  Now in his 13th NHL season, the 30-year-old Kane is coming off a superb 2018-2019 season in which he posted 44 goals (topped only by the 46 he had in 2015-2016), 66 assists (a career high), and 110 points (also a career high).  His 35 even strength goals were second only to the 37 John Tavares had for Toronto.  For a franchise now playing in its 93rd season, Kane is ranks in the top-ten in a number of career categories: games (908/8th), goals (358/5th), assists (587/3rd), points (945/4th), even strength goals (258/4th), power play goals (100/6th), game-winning goals (60/4th), points per game (1.04/6th among players with 250 games).  He is off to a fine start with an interesting pattern to his scoring, opening the season with a three-point night in a loss to Philadelphia, following that up with one point, no points, and one point again, before posting his second multi-point game (two assists, including on the overtime game-winning goal) in Chicago’s 3-2 overtime win over Columbus on Friday night.  Kane is 6-8-14, minus-5, in 16 career games against Washington.

Duncan Keith has the awards – two Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman, one Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs, four all-star game berths, two-time first team NHL All-Star – but his career numbers and that of fellow defenseman Brent Seabrook (who has only the 2015 All Star game on his awards list) are almost indistinguishable in where they rank in their respective careers with the Blackhawks.  The rank 1-2 in games played by defensemen in team history (Seabrook: 1087/Keith: 1082), third and fourth in goals by defensemen (Seabrook 101/Keith 98), second and sixth in assists (Keith 487/Seabrook 360), second and sixth in points (Keith 585/Seabroook 461), sixth and ninth in plus-minus (Keith plus-159/Seabrook plus-110), 11th and 15th in penalty minutes (Seabrook 657/Keith 609), and game-winning goals (Seabrook 18/Keith 17).  Both are in their 15th seasons with the club, joining Bob Murray as the only defensemen in team history to skate 15 seasons.  Neither have been especially productive through five games, but typically, through five games for each player they are tied in penalty minutes (four), power play points (one), and are separated by just one shot on goal (six for Keith, five for Seabrook).  Keith is 1-8-9, minus-6, in 17 career games against the Caps, while Seabrook is 1-4-5, plus-4, in 17 career games against Washington.

Corey Crawford almost certainly will not be the top-ranked goalie in team history in any major category, but when the two ahead of him in most categories are hall of famers Tony Esposito and Glenn Hall, that is good company nevertheless.  Crawford trails only those two netminders in career games for the club (451), minutes played (25,956), and wins (245).  He is the all-time leader in goals against average (2.42) and save percentage .918, minimum: 100 games).  However, he has been prone to injury in recent years.  In 2017-2018 he missed the last 47 games of the season with an upper-body injury, while last season he lost 33 games to two different bouts with concussions.  It limited Crawford to only 67 appearances over the two seasons, even as his numbers in those limited appearances were rather good for a struggling club (30-27-7, 2.66, .917, with four shutouts).  He is not off to a very good start this season, posting a 1-2-0, 3.40, .900 record in three appearances.  Given that Robin Lehner, signed away from the New York Islanders last summer, stopped 37 of 39 shots in the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime win over Columbus on Friday night, Lehner might get the nod here.  Crawford is 3-5-2, 3.61, .881 in 10 career appearances against the Caps.  Lehner is 2-3-1, 2.17, .927, with one shutout in his career against the Caps.

1.  Zach Smith, in his first year with Chicago after spending his first 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, is the only skater among 15 having dressed for all five games so far without a point for the Hawks.

2.  Chicago will give up shots.  The 34.4 shots allowed per game are second most among Western Conference teams (Colorado: 35.1).

3.  Last season, the Blackhawks set a pair of odd highs.  Both their scoring offense (3.26 goals per game) and scoring defense (3.55 goals per game) were highest in the post 2004-2005 lockout era.

4.  In the “it’s early” department, the 70.6 percent penalty kill through five games is the worst for the Blackhawks since 2005-2006. Then again, the 72.7 percent they posted for all of last season is second worst.  This just might not be a very good penalty killing team.

5.  Chicago has scored first in four of five games so far, going 2-1-1 in those games.

1.  Scoring first has not mattered for the Caps to date.  They are 3-1-2 when scoring first, 2-1-0 when allowing the first goal.

2.  Ditto on leading or trailing after two periods.  Washington finally went over .500 with their win over the Rangers after taking a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes, currently with a 4-1-2 when leading after two periods.  They are 2-1-0 when trailing after two periods.

3.  John Carlson has 17 points in nine games.  Since 1979-1980, do you know how many defensemen have had as many points through nine games?  One – Paul Coffey had 18 points at the nine-game mark in 1988-1989 for Pittsburgh.

4.  Michal Kempny scored a goal in his first game back from injury.  He is one of three Caps defensemen with a goal.  John Carlson (three) and Dmitry Orlov (one) are the others.

5.  The Caps had a 66.67 percent shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 against the Rangers on Friday.  It was the second-highest SAT% for a single game over the last three seasons, topped only by the 68.42 percent that the Caps recorded in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders last March 1st.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Chicago: Olli Maatta

When defenseman Olli Maatta broke in with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2013-2014, went 9-20-29, plus-8, in 78 games, and finished fifth in the Calder Trophy voting for top rookie, the road to a long and productive career seemed laid out before him.  By last season, his sixth with the Pens, in which he was 1-13-14, plus-9, in 60 games (the third season in six in which he missed at least 20 games), he looked like a player who needed a fresh start.  The Penguins must have felt the same way, trading him to Chicago for center Dominik Kahun and a fifth round draft pick. 

Unfortunately, it is the absences that seem to have defined Maatta’s career to date.  There were a thyroid problem, a shoulder injury, and mumps in his sophomore season in 2014-2015 that limited him to 20 games, 15 games lost to two injuries in 2015-2016, 27 games lost to a hand injury and illness in 2016-2017, and 21 games lost to a shoulder injury last season.  The injuries have conspired to make that rookie season his best among the six seasons he spent in Pittsburgh.  And now, at 25 years old, he makes a new start.  It has not been a rousing start, but he has dressed for all five games so far and posted an assist while averaging more than 17 minutes per game.  It is his lowest average ice time in six seasons, but at this point Maatta is a renovation project.  He is 1-8-9, plus-6, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

When Jakub Vrana opened the season with a game-winning goal in the opener and another goal in his next game, both of them in wins, those who predicted he would have his first 30-goal season this year looked good.  Then, the Caps started losing, and Vrana’s production fell off.  He went five games without a goal, and the Caps went 1-2-2, suggesting that his brand of secondary scoring was an important ingredient to the team’s success, and when it was absent, the team faltered.  His ice time dropped off, too.  After averaging 16:47 over his first three games (he had an assist in that third game to open the season on a three-game points streak),  he averaged just 11:49 over his next four games, posting a single assist in the process. 

Vrana rebounded with a goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win over Toronto on Wednesday, posting a personal season high of six shots on goal in 13:50 of ice time.  Although he went without a point in the Caps’ 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on Friday, he posted another four shots on goal for his high shot mark over any two consecutive games so far this season (ten).  Looking at things from another perspective, though, his goal scoring to open this season (three in nine games) is not much different from last season (three in his first 12 games) or the season before that (three in his first 16 games).  Given expectations, though, that pace will have to pick up.  Vrana is 0-2-2, minus-2, in three career games against Chicago.

In the end…

The Caps shut out the Blackhawks in Chicago, 4-0, back on February 15, 2004.  Since then, in nine visits to Chicago, the Caps have are 3-6-0 and have been pummeled by an aggregate score of 41-24.  The Caps have allowed five or more goals five times in those nine games, including 15 goals over their last two visits.  They have been outshot, 297-246, and killed only 20 of 28 shorthanded situations (71.4 percent penalty kill). There is little mystery here.  The Caps have to do a much better job buttoning down their own end than they have in their recent trips to United Center.

Capitals 3 – Blackhawks 2