Sunday, November 10, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 19: Coyotes at Capitals, November 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Veterans Day is on the schedule for the Washington Capitals as they host the Arizona Coyotes at Capital One Arena.  The Caps go into this game riding a six-game winning streak and have points in 11 consecutive games (10-0-1).  On the other side, the Coyotes might qualify as one of the more surprising teams of the early season, but their 9-4-1 start has fallen into an 0-2-1 slide as they come to Washington.

Then and Now…

The Caps will meet the Coyotes for the 80th time on Monday.  In the 79 games played to date between the Caps and Coyotes (including previous incarnations as Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets), the Caps are 35-29-3 (12 ties).  The Caps are 24-10-1 (five ties) in 40 games played on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 9-7-2 overall against Arizona, 6-3-0 on home ice.  The teams split last year’s series, each winning on the other’s rink, Arizona winning last Veterans Day in Washington, 4-1, and the Caps returning the favor in the desert with a 4-2 win last December 6th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

If someone not calling themselves a Coyote fan were asked, “who leads the team in goals this season,” they might go through a few players before settling on Conor Garland.  But he does in this, his first full season in the NHL after getting 47 games of experience last season and recording 13 goals.  Garland was a fifth-round pick of the Coyotes (123rd overall) in the 2015 Entry Draft.  After spending a final year in Moncton in the QMJHL and two full seasons with the Tuscon Roadrunners in the AHL, he split time between Tuscon and the Coyotes last season.  The odd part of his development is that while he was a goal scorer in Canadian junior (104 goals in 206 games over four seasons with Moncton), his first two years as a pro were unremarkable (13 goals in 110 games with Tuscon).  Last year he took a leap forward with eight goals in 18 games with the Roadrunners in the AHL in addition to his 13 goals in 47 games with the Coyotes.  He has slowed down a bit, though.  Garland is without a goal in his last four games, his longest streak so far this season without one.  This will be his first appearance against the Capitals.

If it seems Alex Goligoski has been in the league forever, it only seems that way.  Yes, he is among the older defensemen in the league, but at age 34 he is still younger than Brent Burns, Ryan Suter, and Mark Giordano, among others.  Now in his 13th season and third team (stints with Dallas and Pittsburgh preceding his arrival in Arizona), he is closing in on 400 career points (he has 385) that, should he get there ahead of Alexander Edler (379), would make him the 19th active defenseman with at least 400 career points.  This season, he leads the Coyote defensemen in assists (nine) and points (ten) and is second only to Oliver Ekman-Larsson among all Arizona skaters in average ice time per game (22:43).  Goligoski has also been the trigger man on the Coyote power play, his three assists tied for the team lead with Clayton Keller.  All of Goligoski’s points came in a ten-game stretch after he opened his season without a point in his first three games.  He goes into this game looking to avoid his second three-game streak without a point this season.  Goligoski is 1-7-8, plus-6, in 21 career games against Washington.

Goaltender Antti Raanta missed the last 59 games of last season with a knee injury.  He started this season missing the first three games of the season coming back from that injury and taking a conditioning assignment in Tuscon in the AHL.  He has been eased back into action so far, appearing in only five games to date, none of them consecutively on the schedule.  The infrequency of his appearances mirrors the inconsistency in his game to date.  He has been very good at times (a 34-save effort against Ottawa in a 5-2 win on October 19th), not so good in others (four goals on 36 shots in a 4-1 loss to Montreal on October 20th).

That has left Darcy Kuemper with the bulk of the workload to date.  Kuemper has, from time to time over his seven years in the NHL before this one, displayed some fine performances, but he lacked workload.  Until last season he never appeared in more than 31 games in any season.  But last year, he started 55 games in his first season with the Coyotes and posted a fine 27-20-8, 2.33, .925 record with five shutouts.  He has been better so far this season with a 2.00 goals against average and a .930 save percentage with one shutout, a level of performance that seems to have been unrewarded in his 7-5-0 record in 12 starts.  Kuemper is 1-1-0, 2.03, .939 in two career appearances against the Caps, while Raanta is 1-1-0 (one no-decision), 2.59, .906 in three career appearances against Washington.

1.  Each of Arizona’s last three games on the road have gone to extra time, an overtime win against Edmonton and a Gimmick win against Buffalo with an overtime loss to Calgary.  The Coyotes have played five extra time games in nine road contests, none in eight games at home.

2.  Three seems to be the magic number for Arizona – goals allowed, that it.  In seven games in which the Coyotes allowed three of more goals, they are 1-4-2.  In the ten games in which they allowed two or fewer, they are 8-2-0.

3.  Arizona hardly lacks for shots in road games.  They are averaging 31.6 shots on goal per road game.  That has not translated into success.  The Coyotes are shooting just 8.8 percent on the road for the season.

4.  The Coyotes do not finish games strong in the offensive end of the ice.  Their 11 third-period goals rank 29th in the league.  Only New Jersey (nine) and Columbus (eight) have fewer.

5.  What Arizona has done well on the road is tilt the ice at 5-on-5.  Their 52.88 shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 is third-best in the league in road contests.

1.  In the Caps’ 10-0-1 run of late they scored 51 goals, eight more than the next leading goal scoring teams over that span, Vancouver (43 in 13 games) and Calgary (43 in 14 games).

2.  Over that same span of time, the Caps are one of four teams with a goal differential greater than plaus-10.  The Caps are plus-19 in 11 games, Boston is plus-13 in ten games, Nashville is plus-11 in 12 games, and the New York Islanders are plus-16 in 10 games.

3.  The Caps have the second best power play (27.0 percent) over those 11 games.  Only Boston (30.8 percent in ten games) is better.

4.  The Caps’ 39 even strength goals over those 11 games is more than the total scored by 22 other teams.  Four of the 51 total goals scored over that span were empty netters, leading the league.

5.  Despite all that, the Caps are minus-19 in shot attempt differential at 5-on-5.  Their 48.92 percentage is 22nd in the league over that span.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Phil Kessel

When the Arizona Coyotes traded 25-year old Alex Galchenyuk and a prospect (Pierre-Olivier Joseph) to Pittsburgh for 31-year old Phil Kessel and a prospect (Dane Birks) late last June, the Penguins might have been making a deal to send off a player whose time to go had clearly come, but the Coyotes were getting a veteran player of uncommon durability (nine straight seasons playing every game coming into this one) and reliable production (averaging 29.4 goals per 82 games over his 13 seasons preceding this one).  However, the move west after 13 years playing in the Eastern Conference has not agree with Kessel.  He has only three goals in 17 games to date, none of them scored on the road. 

Further, what contributions Kessel has made on the score sheet seem not to have mattered much.  In eight games in which he recorded at least one point, Arizona is 4-3-1.  They are 5-3-1 in the nine games in which he was blanked on the score sheet.  This from a player who led the league in game-winning goals last season with the Penguins (ten).  Kessel did not get his first even strength goal of the season until Game 13 against Colorado, and that remains his only even strength goal so far this season.  If more was expected of his contributions than a 20th-ranked scoring offense, it has not yet materialized.  Kessel is 12-22-34, minus-8, in 47 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Garnet Hathaway

Garnet Hathaway has been as advertised for the Washington Capitals to date.  One scouting report describes his assets as follows: “Owns excellent size (6-2, 208 pounds) and the prototypical NHL-style game for the highest level, so he is capable of winning board battles with consistency. Gets under opponents' skin, too.”  He plays the “heavy” style the Caps want to deploy, his 52 credited hits for the season tied for 12th most among all players through Saturday, tied for ninth among forwards.  With his 13 blocked shots, he is one of two forwards in the league with more than 50 hits and more than ten blocked shots (Tom Wilson is another with 56 hits and 18 blocked shots). 

Hathaway clearly pays a price in the physical game, and it has had its benefits.  The Caps are 11-1-1 in the 13 games in which he was credited with two or more hits, and they have no lost a game in which he skated more than 13 minutes (6-0-0), evidence that he is reliable in games in which the Caps are trying to hold leads.  On top of that, while his offensive numbers are modest (2-4-6 in 18 games), he is on a pace to surpass his career best in points (19 points with Calgary last season).  Hathaway is no stranger to the Coyotes.  The 14 games he has appeared against them is the most he has against any NHL opponent.  He is 0-1-1, even, in those 14 games.

In the end…

There are many stories of teams out to hot starts in the early season only to fade as the grind of a long season begins to set in.  For instance, last season the Minnesota Wild opened the season 11-4-2 only to fade to a 26-32-7 finish, last in the Central Division.  Whether Arizona suffers a similar fate is only a matter of conjecture at this point.  But what isn’t is that they will be facing one of the hottest teams in the league looking to win their seventh game in a row and their sixth straight on home ice after starting the home portion of the schedule 0-1-2.  Arizona just has not been scoring enough goals for the Coyotes to depend on outscoring the Caps in an old fashioned shootout.  They do have the second-best scoring defense in the league, but the term “ambush” by the home team might apply to the outcome in this contest.

Capitals 5 – Coyotes 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 6

The good times kept rolling for the Washington Capitals in Week 6 as they extended their winning streak to a season-long six games.  They are riding one of the biggest waves of offense in the team’s history to rest atop the league standings through six weeks.

Record: 3-0-0

The 3-0-0 week made it five weeks in six this season that the Caps finished with winning weeks and all six at .500 or better in standings points won.  It was the second week of the season and second consecutive week that the Caps poster a perfect record.  Last season, the Caps did not have their second perfect week on the record ledger until Week 9.  It was their fourth week without a regulation loss, a mark they did not reach last season until Week 9.

It might be something Caps fans take a bit for granted these days, the Caps having been a top-level contender for more than a decade now, but it is a measure of how far they have come since the rebuild and the early days of the Rock the Red era began.  In 2005-2006, the Caps did not earn their 13th win until Game 36, but this year they have 13 wins in half as many games (18).  It is the earliest that the Caps got to 13 wins since they hit that mark in 18 games to start the 2010-2011 season.  The last time they hit 13 wins earlier on their schedule was 1991-1992, when they started the first 17 games of the season 13-4-0.

Offense: 4.67/game (season: 4.06/1st)

It would surprise few that the Caps led the league in total goals in Week 6, their 14 goals tied with Colorado and Ottawa.  They did it with considerable efficiency, recording those 14 goals on only 97 shots (14.4 percent).  They recorded five goals in two games, wins over Florida and Vegas to close the week.  That brought their total of games with five or more goals to eight, seven of them coming in their last ten contests.  The eight five-goal games leads the league, one better than Nashville and Vancouver.

The deluge of goals to open the season has the Caps leading the league in scoring offense by almost a quarter of a goal per game over the Nashville Predators (4.06 to 3.82) and is, for the moment, only the third time in team history that the Caps averaged more than four goals per game (4.13 in 1991-1992; 4.03 in 1984-1985).

Eight different Caps had goals during the week, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana leading the way with three apiece.  Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin (two apiece) also had multi-goal weeks.  Evgeny Kuznetsov led the team in assists (six) and points (seven), but an indicator of the balance the Caps enjoyed was that five different players finished the week with five or more points.  Wilson, Vrana, and John Carlson had five apiece.

Carlson continued his assault on the record book for scoring by defensemen.  He started the week failing to record a point against the Calgary Flames, but he had a three-point game against Florida and followed that up with a two-point effort against Vegas to give him ten multi-point games this season, tops in the league among all skaters.  His 28 points through 18 games is the most for a defenseman over that span of games since Al MacInnis had 32 points in his first 18 games in the 1991-1992 season.

The cherry on top of the sundae for the week in this category might have been in the second period of the game on Saturday against Vegas, when Jonas Siegenthaler recorded his first NHL goal.  It would be the game-winning goal in the 5-2 Caps win:

Defense: 2.67/game (season: 3.06/T-18th)

The Caps did allow eight goals for the week, tied for tenth fewest overall, but five of the nine teams allowing fewer played in fewer than three games.  The defense is coming, though.  After a span of eight games in which they allowed fewer than three goals once, they allowed fewer than three goals three times in four games including three of four in Week 6.  Part of it is keeping shot totals down.  In those eight games in which the Caps had difficulty keeping opponents off the scoreboard, they averaged 33.6 shots allowed per game.  In the four games since, that number was reduced to 31.3 per game.  It does not sound like a lot, but a seven percent reduction in shots allowed per game can have its effects over time.

The Caps also got better over the course of the week in holding down shot attempts.  In the last two games of the week, the Caps held opponents to 35 of fewer attempts at fives (35 against Florida, 34 against Vegas).  The week ended with the Caps having held opponents to 35 of fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5 three times in five games after doing it only once in their previous seven games.

Goaltending: 2.67 / .916 (season: 2.97 / .903)

Slowly but surely, the team goaltending is improving.  After raising the team save percentage over .900 in Week 5, the Caps found themselves under 3.00 in goals against average for the first time since Week 1 after Week 6.

What drove the week as a clean sheet in the third periods of games.  Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov stopped all 31 third period shots they faces, and Holtby added another save in overtime for good measure in the Caps’ 5-4 overtime win over Florida.

Holtby won both of his starts for the week, stopping a total of 62 of 68 shots faced against Florida and Vegas.  It brought his record to 7-0-1, 2.72, .920 since his 0-for-3 debacle less than eight minutes against Colorado on October 14th.  If there was one thing to be concerned about in his performance, it was in stopping 38 of 44 shots over the first two periods of the two games he played this week (.864 save percentage).

Ilya Samsonov had the first game of the week, and after his own shaky start against Calgary (eight saves on ten shots in the first period), he was a wall over the last 40 minutes, stopping all 19 shot he faced and winning his fifth game in five starts, the first goaltender in Caps history to do so.

Power Play: 3-for-12/25.0 percent (season: 25.0 percent/T-5th)

For the third consecutive week, the Caps had a 25.0 percent power play.  They have a season power play of 25.0 percent.  Week 6 was the fifth consecutive week in which the Caps power play was 25.0 percent or better.  Consistency is not a problem with which the Caps suffer in this area of their game.  And to think that after Week 1 (2-for-11/18.2 percent), this was an area of considerable concern, especially given how they finished the regular season last year (7-for-48/14.6 percent over their last five weeks).

It might have been an even better week but for the acrobatics of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped all but one of the 12 power play shots he faced in 10:14 of Caps power play ice time.  As if was, the Caps had a decent week, efficiency-wise, going 3-for-22 shooting in 20:14 of total power play ice time.  The Caps enjoyed a measure of balance in their shooting.  Four Caps recorded four or more power play shots on goal for the week – Alex Ovechkin (1-for-6), Nicklas Backstrom (1-for-4), Evgeny Kuznetsov (four shots), and John Carlson (five shots).  Lars Eller had the third power play goal.

If there is a bizarre aspect to the Caps’ power play through six weeks, it is the difference between home and road efficiency, and that in an odd way.  Washington finished the week 11-for-33 in road power plays (33.3 percent), second in the league to the New York Islanders (40.0 percent on few chances, only 4-for-10).  The Caps are 5-for-31 at home (16.1 percent), 23rd in the league in home power play efficiency.

Penalty Killing: 9-for-11/81.8 percent (season:  percent/T-7th)

Washington’s sawtooth patter of penalty killing efficiency – up one week, down the next, repeat – was on display again in Week 6.  The 9-for-11 result was by no means poor, but the 81.8 percent penalty kill for the week was off from 90.0 percent the previous week, which was up from 87.5 percent the week before that, etc.

The Caps were efficient overall in holding shots down, allowing 17 in 18:37 of shorthanded ice time.  But that was tempered by allowing Vegas ten power play shots in just 7:27 of power play ice time in the last game of the week.  Seven of them came from two power plays in the third period, the Caps holding the Golden Knights off the score sheet for the entire four minutes of shorthanded ice time.

Faceoffs: 93-for-178 / 52.2 percent (season: 50.1 percent/13th)

The Caps inched back over the 50 percent mark for the season on faceoffs off their Week 6 effort.  With three games at 50 percent or better, the Caps extended that streak to four games, their longest streak of 50 percent of better in the circle this season.

They were consistent by zone, finishing over 50 percent in all three zones for the week overall.  That the Caps did it against three teams that finished the week ranked 20th or worse in faceoff winning percentage does not diminish the achievement much; you play the teams in front of you.

Individually, the Caps spread things around for a team playing only three games for the week.  Six different skaters finished with ten or more faceoffs taken. Four of them won more than 50 percent of their draws, including the often unamazing Evgeny Kuznetsov, who not only finished above 50 percent for the week (56.4 percent), but was 50 percent or better in all three zones.  It is worth noting, though, that the two players taking the most draws for the week were the two that finished under 50 percent among the six taking ten or more draws – Nicklas Backstrom (23-for-47/48.9 percent) and Lars Eller (20-for-43/46.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

Part of the idea, “play for a full 60 minutes,” means finishing games well.  In that case, the Caps had a very good week.  The Caps outscored their three opponents by a combined 5-0 margin in the third period and overtime of games.  That margin allowed the Caps to climb into positive differential territory in third period goals for the season (21 scored, 18 allowed).  They continued their second period dominance, albeit slightly for the week.  However, they did score goals in the second period in each of the three games in Week 6, making it 18-for-18 in games in which the Caps scored at least one second period goal.

First periods were less successful.  Although the Caps did score first in two of the games this week, both times in the first minute of play (John Carlson 25 seconds into the game at Florida and Evgeny Kuznetsov 58 seconds into the game against Vegas), the Caps were merely even for the week with five goals scored and five allowed in the first periods of the three games.


The six-game winning and 11-game points streak has the Caps of this season pulling away from last year’s squad at similar points on the schedule.  There is the ten standings points difference between this year’s and last year’s 18-game totals, of course.  But the positive differences extend downward through most statistical categories – goals scored (up 14, almost 25 percent), goals against (down five), shots, shots allowed, penalty killing, faceoffs, shot attempts at 5-on-5, blocked shots, and giveaways.  The completeness with which the Caps have improved across categories after more than 20 percent of the season has been completed suggests that the Caps’ record is no fluke.  It might not be sustainable over the longer run (they are on a 59-win/132-points pace), but they can stake a claim to be among the top clubs in the league to date.

In the end…

The Caps are the only Eastern Conference club not to have lost a game in regulation to an Eastern Conference team (6-0-1).  On the other hand, no team in the East has played fewer games against Eastern Conference rivals than the Caps (seven, tied with Pittsburgh, who is 3-4-0).  The schedule pivots back to the East in Week 7 with three of four games and seven of the next ten on the schedule through the end of November against Eastern foes.  The Caps have set themselves up well in their record to date, positioning themselves to put even more distance between themselves and the rest of the conference in the standings.  Week 6 added to that advantage in a fine all-around performance.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Tom Wilson (3-2-5, plus-5, 1 power play goal, 1 game-winning (overtime) goal, 9:54 in shorthanded ice time (led all skaters), eight credited hits)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (3-2-5, plus-4, 1 game-winning goal, 10 shots, 16 shot attempts, three takeaways)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-6-7, plus-4, 10 shots, 11 shot attempts, 56.4 percent on faceoffs)

Captain rates the week…

Four puppers