Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 13: Capitals at Canucks, October 25th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The annual western Canada trip comes to an end for the Washington Capitals on Friday night when they visit Rogers Arena in Vancouver to face the Canucks.  The Caps will be skating in the back half of a back-to-back set of games after taking on the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Thursday night.  Vancouver will be returning home after a four-game road trip, but they will be well-rested after last playing on Tuesday night in a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Then and Now

This will be the 98th regular season meetings of the Caps and Canucks, the Caps holding a 47-40-1 record (with nine ties) in the 97 meetings to date.  In Vancouver, the Caps are 19-23-1 (five ties) in 48 meetings.  Since 2005-2006, Washington Is 9-8-1 against the Canucks overall and 3-5-1 in Vancouver.  The Caps beat the Canucks, 5-2, in their last trip to Vancouver on October 22, 2018.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent

Caps vs. Canucks:

    Goals: Ovechkin (9)
    Assists: Backstrom (12)
    Points: Ovechkin (17)
    Plus-minus: Kuznetsov (plus-12)
    Penalty minutes: Wilson (23)
    Power play goals: Ovechkin (5)
    Power play points: Ovechkin (8)
    Shorthanded goals: none
    Game-winning goals: Ovechkin (3)
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Ovechkin (65)

Canucks vs. Caps:

    Goals: Edler (4)
    Assists: Tanev, Boeser, Horvat, Edler (4)
    Points: Edler (8)
    Plus-minus: Gaudette, Tanev (plus-1)
    Penalty minutes: Edler (12)
    Power play goals: Baertschi (3)
    Power play points: Baertschi, Boeser, Horvat, Edler (4)
    Shorthanded goals: none
    Game-winning goals: none
    Overtime goals: none
    Shots on goal: Edler (39)

Noteworthy Opponents

From ninth overall draft pick to team captain in six years.  That has been the hockey journey of Vancouver forward Bo Horvat, who was taken with that ninth overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft.  His progress and promotion are no flukes.  After spending a season in Canadian junior (London Knights) and a sliver of the 2014-2015 season in the AHL (Utica Comets), he joined the Canucks and has been a fixture ever since, his 103 goals in five-plus seasons one short of jumping into the top-25 in team history (Jim Sandlak has 104) and ranking fourth in his 2013 draft class, behind Sean Monahan (174), Nathan MacKinnon (160), and Aleksander Barkov (135).  Horvat was named the 14th captain in team history at the team’s home opener of the season on October 9th, at 24 years old the third-youngest first-time captain in team history (Trevor Linden was 20 years old in 1990-1991, and Kevin McCarthy was 22 in 1979-1980 when first named captain).  Horvat got off to a bit of a sluggish start this season, recording only one assist in his first five games.  However, he has five goals in his last four games, including a hat trick in the Canucks’ 5-2 win over Detroit on Tuesday.  He is 2-4-6, minus-3, in eight career games against the Caps.

Vancouver has had the luxury to date of dressing only six defensemen this season, going with the same blue line lineup in each of their nine games going into this contest.  Quinn Hughes is tied for the lead in points among defensemen (1-5-6) in his first full year with the club after being taken with the seventh overall pick, and second defenseman behind top overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, in the 2018 Entry Draft.  He was not even the top draft pick in his family, though, his younger brother Jack being taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils in las summer’s draft.  Hughes got a taste of the NHL last season, recording three assists in five games at the end of the season with the parent club.  He posted his first, and to date only NHL goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the team’s home opener, a power play goal that opened the scoring in an 8-2 win.  This will be Hughes’ first appearance against Washington.

The Caps will be facing their second consecutive goaltending tandem that is playing well in the early going.  Jacob Markstrom (4-2-0, 2.16, .933 in six starts) and Thatcher Demko (2-1-0, 1.64, .943 in three starts) have been superb so far.  Markstrom is in his tenth NHL season, his sixth full season with the Canucks since he was traded from the Florida Panthers with Shawn Matthias for Roberto Luongo in March 2014 and finished the 2013-2014 season in Vancouver.  Markstrom appears to have found a home with the Canucks, appearing in 60 games over each of the last two seasons after appearing in a total of just 109 games over his first seven seasons in the NHL.  He is fifth in team history in games played (192) and with 20 more wins this season would become the fifth goalie in team history with 100 wins. 

Markstrom might only be keeping the seat warm for Thatcher Demko, though.  Demko was a second round pick (36th overall and the second goalie taken) in the 2014 Entry Draft.  After completing his stay with Boston College in the NCAA in 2015-2016, a season in which he posted six shutouts in seven games and ten shutouts overall on his way to winning the Mike Richter Award as the top goalie in NCAA men’s hockey, he spent parts of three seasons with the Utica Comets in the AHL while getting ten games in with the Canucks over the last two seasons.  One cannot help but notice comparisons and similarities with the path another former Vancouver goalie took.  Cory Schneider, like Demko, was among the top goalies picked in his draft class (first round/26h overall, the fourth goalie taken in 2004).  He, like Demko, is a product of the Boston College program.  He, like Demko, spent parts of three seasons in the AHL (with the Manitoba Moose).  But Schneider got caught in a numbers game in Vancouver, stuck behind Roberto Luongo for much of his five season stay with the Canucks, never getting more than 30 regular season starts.  Demko could find himself in a similar situation.  Markstrom is in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.67 million per year, and an investment in Markstrom’s services past this season could force the Canucks to deal with Demko at some point as they did with Schneider, trading him to the New Jersey Devils in 2013 for a first round draft pick that became Bo Horvat.  Demko has never faced the Caps.

1.  No team has played fewer home games to date than Vancouver (three, tied with Minnesota and Tampa Bay).

2.  The 2.11 goals allowed per game so far by the Canucks would, if sustained over the entire season, be the fewest goals allowed per game for a season in team history.

3.  Vancouver has yet to lose a game this season when leading at an intermission.  They are 3-0-0 when leading after one period, 4-0-0 when leading after two periods.

4.  The Canucks play against trend in one respect.  When outshooting opponents, they are 3-3-0 so far this season, but they are 3-0-0 when they are out-shot.

5.  Vancouver has a minus-24 shot differential at 5-on-5 so far this season, tied for fifth worst in the league through Wednesday’s games.

1.  The Caps scored five goals in three consecutive games going into Thursday’s game in Edmonton against the Oilers, bringing their total of five-plus goal games to four through 11 games, one short of their 11-game total of five-plus goal games to start last season.

2.  Through 11 games last season, the Caps had allowed five or more goals four times.  Through 11 games going into Thursday’s play, that total was two games, a 6-5 loss to Nashville and a 6-3 loss to Colorado.

3.  Hey, it’s not like John Carlson was a slouch last season to start the year.  Through 11 games this year, Carlson has 20 points, but last season he had 14 at the same point (5-9-14) and was fifth in scoring at the time among defensemen, two points behind Morgan Rielly for the top spot.

4.  Through 11 games last season, Madison Bowey was the only one of 20 skaters yet to record a point.  Through 11 games this season, three of 21 have yet to do it: Richard Panik (in eight games), Tyler Lewington (five games) and Martin Fehervary (three games).

5.  Ilya Samsonov has had three starts as backup to Braden Holtby so far (four appearances), going 3-1-0, 1.84, .933.  Through 11 games last season, Pheonix Copley had two starts (three appearances) and was 1-1-1, 3.55, .882.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Jay Beagle

He did not play 500 games with the Caps, his 471 games ranking 30th in team history.  His 51 goals tied Robert Lang (who did it in 326 fewer games) for 63rd place on the franchise list.  His 116 points – 69th on the Caps’ all-time list.  But few players commanded the affection and respect that Jay Beagle did in his ten seasons with the team.  It is tribute to his work ethic, an undrafted player who joined the Capitals as a free agent in March 2008, but one who did the little things, the things that don’t get a lot of attention from casual fans, quite well.  Well enough to be the only player to have won championships in the ECHL (Idaho Steelheads), AHL (Hershey Bears), and NHL (Capitals).  Having won the Stanley Cup with the Caps in 2018, Beagle moved on to Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent, signing a four-year/$12 million contract in July 2018. 

In his first season with the Canucks, Beagle battled injuries, losing 24 games to a broken forearm and another to illness.  The absences held him to just three goals and 13 points in 57 games.  But he is still a master of the dot.  Beagle is in the midst of his 11th consecutive season winning more than half of his faceoffs, and his 56.6 winning percentage over that span is third best in the league among 167 active players with more than 1,000 draws taken, trailing only Jonathan Toews (57.2 percent) and Patrice Bergeron (58.5 percent).  Beagle is without a point and is minus-1 in one appearance against the Capitals.

Washington: Radko Gudas

Radko Gudas did not come to the Washington Capitals as the most beloved of players.  If you asked 100 fans to list their ten most-hated opponents, Gudas might have appeared on 95 of those lists.  Part of it was his playing the last four seasons in Philadelphia with the Flyers, a long-despised opponent by Caps fans.  Part of it might have been the name, which conjures a “Bond villain” image.  Part of it might have been his orneriness and penchant for playing over the edge, a player who was first among NHL defensemen over his six full seasons in credited hits (1,397) and who shows up on “dirtiest player” lists. 

But the stats mavens like him.  For example, coming into this season, he was 49.0 percent or better in each of his seven seasons in on-ice shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 and was 51.88 percent over his career.  And, he was cutting his penalty minute time almost in half, from 116 minutes in 2015-2016 to 63 minutes last season.  Gudas also provided consistent and reliable minutes.  Never in his eight seasons, including this one, has he averaged less than 17 minutes per game.  Gudas, who is not a big offensive contributor (24 career goals in 416 games before this season) is looking for his first goal as a Capital.  He is 0-1-1, minus-3, in seven career games against Vancouver.

In the end…

It would be easy to attach some deeper meaning to this last game of the annual western Canada road trip, but it just does not seem to matter much in a broader context.  Last season, the Caps went 2-1-0 on the trip, but it was in the midst of a broader slow start (8-7-3 in their first 18 games).  The previous season, the one in which the Caps won the Cup, they went 1-2-0 in western Canada, but then they went 5-1-0 in the six games that followed.  The year before that it was 3-1-0 (Winnipeg was also on the itinerary), but then the Caps went 5-3-1 in the nine games that followed.  Take it for what it is, two available standings points that are better gained than lost.

Capitals 4 – Canucks 2