Saturday, November 02, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 16: Flames at Capitals, November 3rd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The two-game home stand comes to an end for the Washington Capitals on Sunday night when they host the Calgary Flames at Capital One Arena.  This meeting will end the season series between the teams, the Caps winning the first matchup less than two weeks ago, a 5-2 win in Calgary in which the Caps broke a tie late in the second period, scored a pair in the third to take a commanding lead, then gave up a window dressing goal in the last minute for the final margin. 

Then and Now…

This will be the 99th meeting of the teams in the all-time series, the Caps with a 40-43-2 record (with 13 ties).  In 50 of those games on home ice, the Caps are 26-16-2, with six ties.  Since 2005-2006, Washington Is 12-5-2 overall against the Flames and 5-2-2 on home ice.  The Caps have won the last three games overall in the series, including the last meeting in Washington, a 4-3 win last February 1st.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Caps vs. Flames:
  • Goals: Ovechkin (11)
  • Assists: Backstrom (15)
  • Points: Ovechkin (25)
  • Plus-minus: Backstrom (plus-6)
  • Penalty minutes: Wilson (12)
  • Power play goals: Ovechkin (8)
  • Power play points: Ovechkin (15)
  • Shorthanded goals: none
  • Game-winning goals: Backstrom, Ovechkin (2)
  • Overtime goals: none
  • Shots on goal: Ovechkin (104)
  • Goaltender wins: Holtby (6)
  • Goals against average: Holtby (3.05)
  • Save percentage: Holtby (.894)
  • Shutouts: none

Flames vs. Caps:
  • Goals: Monahan (7)
  • Assists: Gaudreau (10)
  • Points: Gaudreau, Monahan (11)
  • Plus-minus: Monahan (plus-3)
  • Penalty minutes: Giordano (16)
  • Power play goals: Lindholm (2)
  • Power play points: Giordano, Gaudreau (3)
  • Shorthanded goals: none
  • Game-winning goals: Monahan
  • Overtime goals: Monahan (2)
  • Shots on goal: Monahan (38)
  • Goaltender wins: none
  • Goals against average: Talbot (4.14)
  • Save percentage: Talbot (.862)
  • Shutouts: none

Noteworthy Opponents…

Like father, like son.  Matthew Tkachuk has played in 239 games through 15 games of his fourth NHL season and has 187 points.  His father, Keith Tkachuk, appeared in 232 games over his first four NHL seasons (1991-1992 through 1994-1995), posting 191 points.  The mix is different, Matthew with only 77 goals at this point compared to the 94 his father recorded in his first four seasons, but the similarities are there.  Among those similarities are orneriness.  Keith logged 636 minutes in penalties over his first four seasons, but that was a different era entirely.  Son Matthew has 248 penalty minutes in his fourth season, and he is one of only four players in the league to have posted at least 75 goals and at least 225 penalty minutes over the last four years. 

Tkachuk has displayed consistent and significant improvement in scoring in his early career, going 13-25-48 in 76 games as a rookie in 2016-2017, followed by seasons of 24-25-49 (68 games) and 34-43-77 (80 games) last season.  He is on a similar trajectory this season, going 6-7-13 in 15 games to date, going into Calgary’s contest in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.  His pattern to date has been pairs.  His six goals were scored in three two-goal games, in wins against Florida and Nashville, and a pair (including the late, game-tying goal) in an overtime loss to Los Angeles.  Tkachuk is 1-3-4, even, in six career games against the Capitals.

Mark Giordano is the best known among Flames’ defensemen, but T.J. Brodie deserves a mention.  Brodie, now in his tenth season in Calgary, will tie Jamie Macoun for fifth place on the all-time Calgary list of games played by a defenseman in franchise history (586) when he takes the ice tonight in Columbus and take fifth place all to himself when he skates against the Caps on Sunday.  Since assuming a role as a fixture on the blue line in 2013-2014, he has become a reliable, if not elite point getter with six consecutive seasons of 30-plus points coming into this season.  That consistency over the years has positioned Brodie high in the all-time scoring rankings in franchise history among defensemen – eighth in goals (44), fifth in assists (210), fifth in points (254), and seventh in game-winning goals (11).  Calgary is going to have a decision to make at year-end regarding Brodie.  His current five-year/$23.252 million contract will expire and the 30-year old (he turns 30 next June) will be an unrestricted free agent.  What complicates the matter for the Flames is that they will be in a similar situation with 29-year old defenseman Travis Hamonic (he turns 30 next August), whose seven-year/$27 million deal will expire after this season.  The state of negotiations with the defensemen is somewhat muddy.  Brodie is 0-7-7,minus-1, in 13 career games against Washington.

Cam Talbot, who took the loss in the Flames’ first meeting against the Caps a couple of weeks ago in his last appearance going into Saturday’s games, is the only active goaltender in the Calgary system to have faced the Capitals.  So, will David Rittich get his first shot at Washington?  Between the fact that Calgary is playing back-to-back games this weekend, and Rittich has been unsteady in recent appearances (2-2-1, 3.72, .888 in his last five appearances), he might get that chance.  Rittich, an undrafted goaltender, signed a one-year contract with Calgary in June 2016 after two seasons with BK Mladá Boleslav in the Czech Extraliga.  He appeared in only one game with the Flames the following season, spending most of his time with the Stockton Heat in the AHL, but he was signed to a one-year extension  in 2017-2018 and another in 2018-2019. Last July, Rittich inked a two-year/$5.5 million contract that extends through the 2020-2021 season.

Last season was Rittich’s first as the number one goaltender for the Flames, albeit not clearly the incumbent in that role.  He started 42 of the team’s 82 games and posted a respectable 2.61 goals against average and .911 save percentage with one shutout.  The odd thing about Rittich, and Flames goalies in general, is the lack of history among them since the franchise’s founding in Atlanta 47 seasons ago.  Rittich’s 79 appearances ranks 15th all-time among Flames’ goaltenders, and with 35 more appearances this season (he has 12 at the moment), he would jump into the top-ten, tying Don Edwards (114 appearances).  And it is not as if his other numbers fade in that context.  Among 18 goalies with at least 50 games played for the franchise, Rittich ranks eighth in goals against average (2.76) and fifth in save percentage (.908).  Odd Rittich fact… Going into Saturday’s games, Rittich is tied for the league lead in both starts (12) and total goals allowed (36).  As noted, if he gets the nod it will be his first appearance against the Caps.

1.  Calgary scored three goals on six power play chances in their first two road games this season, but they are 1-for-22 since (4.5 percent) going into their game in Columbus on Saturday night.

2.  The Flames are one of three teams to take ten or more penalties in a road game this season.  They took 11 (10 minors and one misconduct) in a 4-1 loss to Los Angeles on October 19th.

3.  Only the Caps have blocked more shots on the road this season (145 in nine road games) than the Flames, who have 141 blocked shots in nine road games.  In a related stat, the Flames have been ill-behaved guests in one respect this season.  The 73 takeaways with which they have been credited on the road lead the league, ten more than the Colorado Avalanche.

4.  Calgary was 50 percent or better in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 in five of their first six road games, but they are under 50 percent in each of their last three road contests, going 43.15 percent overall.

5.  Going into Saturday night’s game against Columbus, the Flames have but one win on the road in regulation so far (they have two in extra time).  They got a third period goal from Mikael Backlund to scratch out a 2-1 win in Anaheim against the Ducks on October 20th.

1.  Going into Saturday’s action, the Caps are the only team in the league that is top-five in both power play (25.0 percent/fifth) and penalty killing (85.7 percent/fifth).

2.  The Caps and Flames were tied for most times shorthanded overall going into Saturday’s schedule (56 times apiece).  The rank 1-2 in minor penalties taken (Calgary: 62; Washington: 60).

3.  If practice makes perfect, the Caps are getting a lot of it taking faceoffs.  The 953 draws taken rank first in the league, 62 more than Calgary (yes, these stats are largely a product of these two teams tied for most games played (15) to date).

4.  One stat not dependent on games played is shooting percentage, and the Caps lead the league in that category (12.8 percent).

5.  The Caps continue their high level of production in the second period.  When they scored in the middle frame against Buffalo on Friday, it kept the streak alive at 15 straight games with second period goals.  The 24 second period goals they have (first in the league) is only one goal fewer than the total the Chicago Blackhawks have for the season (25).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: Travis Hamonic

There are 13 defensemen in the league averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time per game and recording a minus-7 or worse overall.  Whether they are defensemen who get the tough minutes against tough opponents, have played in bad luck, are in slumps, or are just bad, it is quite a collection.  There are some big names on it, too.  Drew Doughty (24:07 per game/minus-7), Brent Burns (26:19 per game, minus-10), Erik Karlsson (25:20 per game/minus-12), and Ryan Suter (24:08 per game/minus-10).  Dmitry Orlov is on it (21:48 per game/minus-7) for the Caps, and Travis Hamonic is on it for the Flames (21:31 per game/minus-7).  Hamonic happens to be the only defenseman on that list yet to record a goal, and his two points are tied for fewest in the group (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Mike Green).

Hamonic spent seven seasons in New York with the Islanders, posting 26 goals and 146 points in 444 games.  The numbers do not jump off the page, but Calgary thought enough of his performance to acquire him (with a conditional fourth round draft pick) in June 2017 for a 2018 first round draft pick and a conditional second round pick in 2019.  The Islanders might have made the trade as part of what would be an unsuccessful effort to keep John Tavares in blue and orange, but nevertheless, the Flames assumed the last three years of a contract paying Hamonic $3.86 million per year.  That deal expires at the end of this season, and his slow start (0-2-2, minus-7) has not given much comfort about the idea of resigning him.  He has shown some signs of offensive life recently with assists in two of his last four games.  Hamonic is 5-7-12, minus-6, in 29 career games against Washington.

Washington: Chandler Stephenson

Pretty, wasn’t it?  That goal Chandler Stephenson had to finish a four-on-one break against Buffalo on Friday night…

Skating, patience, stickhandling, placement.  He made it look easy.  On his only shot on goal of the game.  And that is what has been somewhat frustrating about Stephenson as a Capital.  Whether is it a reluctance, given his role as more of a checking/defensive forward, a lack of opportunity, or an inability to create openings, he hasn’t put a lot of pucks on net I his four-plus seasons with the Caps.  Over the last three seasons, including this one, only Ryan Reaves among forwards has recorded more games with no shots on goal (84) than Stephenson (77).  Not that his shooting is a major factor in team success.  Over those same last three seasons, the Caps are 43-23-11 in the 77 games in which he did not record a shot on goal, 40-20-4 in the 64 games in which he did.  Only 17 times in those 141 games over the last three years did Stephenson record to or more shot on goal in a game (the Caps going 12-3-2), and only once with as many as three (this past October 4th in a 2-1 win over the Islanders).

Offense is what fans generally notice, and Stephenson has been a somewhat quiet player at that end.  It makes the contributions he does make in other areas less obvious and more important.  For example, over the past three seasons he is fifth among active Capital forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (1:30).  He is fifth in that group in blocked shots (69), first in faceoff winning percentage (52.0 percent; minimum: 50 draws taken), and perhaps not surprisingly since he picks his spots, third in shooting percentage (15.7).  One number that does jump out and glow red like an irritated bunion is his on-ice shot attempts differential at 5-on-5.  Over the last three seasons that number is minus-288, worst among active Caps forwards.  But back to the shots; Stephenson does have shots on goal in each of his last four games.  It might seem modest, but it is his longest such streak since he put together a five-game shots streak to close October and open November last season.  Stephenson is 1-0-1, even, in six career games against Calgary, his goal coming in the 5-3 win in Calgary on October 22nd.

In the end…

Calgary is in something of a funk at the moment.  Going into their game against Columbus on Saturday night they have not won consecutive games since October 15/17 against Philadelphia and Detroit at home.  They are 3-3-1 since then and have been held to two or fewer goals four times in that span.  And, they just have not been a very good team on the road, going 3-5-1 overall with just that one win in regulation.  Adding to the burden, their game against the Caps is the last of a five-game road trip for the Flames, the first three of which were hard-fought one goal decisions (1-1-1).

Meanwhile, the Caps are running roughshod over opposing defenses and goaltenders, scoring five or more goals in five of their last seven games and averaging 4.71 goals per game (best in the league) while going 6-0-1 (best in the league).  There is little to think the Caps cannot keep the train moving smartly down the track in this one.

Capitals 5 – Flames 2