Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 23: Ducks at Capitals, November 18th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

If it is Monday, it must be hockey in Washington.  For the second straight week and the third time in three Monday games this season, the Washington Capitals host a game at Capital One Arena, this time welcoming the Anaheim Ducks in a 7:00 start.  The Caps had their 13-game points streak stopped last week when they dropped a 5-2 decision to Montreal, but they rebounded with a 3-2 Gimmick win over Boston on Saturday.  Anaheim comes to Washington fresh off a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues that ended a five-game losing streak (0-3-2).

Then and Now…

This is not one of the great rivalries among those the Caps have with NHL teams.  It will be only the 38th regular season meeting of the clubs, and the Caps will be looking to even their wins and regulation losses, taking a 17-18-1 (one tie) all-time record against the Ducks into this game.  Washington is 9-9-1 on home ice against the Ducks in the all-time series.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 11-7-1 overall and 5-4-1 on home ice against Anaheim.  The Ducks won both games of the season series last year, a 6-5 win in Washington on December 2nd and a 5-2 win in California on February 17th.  The Ducks have won the last three meetings of the clubs, and the Caps have not defeated Anaheim in regulation since February 2017.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The name “Jakob Silfverberg” is not likely to command a lot of attention outside of Southern California, and frankly, it might not command much in that part of the country.  But Jakob Silfverberg is making his way up the all-time rankings for the Anaheim Ducks, knocking on the door of the top-ten in a number of categories he does not already occupy.  If he plays 35 more games this season he will become the 11th player in team history to appear in 500 games with the franchise.  He is eighth on the club’s all-time list in goals scored (116), 13th in assists (134), 11th in points (250), 11th in plus-minus (plus-35), and tied for seventh in game-winning goals (17).  He has established himself as, if not an elite scorer, than a reliable secondary scorer, a more or less 20-goal/45-point player per 82 games in his seven years with the Ducks.

This season, Silfverberg is on a career pace in goals, assists, and points.  Currently 9-8-17 in 21 games, he is on pace to put up 35 goals (career best to date: 24 last season), 31 assists (he had 26 twice in his career), and 66 points (he had 49 points in 2016-2017).  He is one of seven players so far this season with two shorthanded goals, and he is one of 19 players in the NHL with at least ten shorthanded goals since 2012-2013.  He has shorthanded goals in seven of the last eight seasons, one of only three players in the league with as many (Michael Grabner and Brad Marchand are the others).  He comes into this game with points in seven of his last ten contests over which he is 4-5-9, minus-5.  Silfverberg is 5-5-10, even, in 15 career games against the Capitals.

Cam Fowler was the 12th overall pick of the 2010 Entry Draft and the third defenseman taken in that draft.  The Ducks are no doubt pleased that Erik Gudbranson (taken third overall by Florida) and Dylan McIlrath (taken 10th by the New York Rangers) did not slip to their spot or that Fowler was taken by either of those teams.  No defenseman in his draft class has appeared in more NHL games than Fowler (641), he is second to Justin Faulk in goals (62 to 85), and he leads his class of defensemen in points (281).  Those 62 career goals are most by a defenseman in Ducks history, as are his 641 games played, 2109 assists, and 281 points.  He even has four career shorthanded and game-winning goals to top the career list among defensemen and is one of three defensemen in Ducks history to record a hat trick (Hampus Lindhom and Lubomir Visnovsky are the others), turning the trick in a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in November 2018.

Fowler has had recent difficulties staying in the lineup, though.  After appearing in 80 games for second time in three seasons in 2016-2017, he missed 15 games in 2017-2018 to knee and shoulder injuries, and last year he missed 23 games after taking a puck that deflected off his own stick into his cheek, causing multiple facial fractures.  He has appeared in all 21 games for the Ducks this season and is having a typical year with four goals (most among Duck defensemen) and five assists, going plus-5 in the process.  But his season has unfolded in two parts.  Fowler was 2-3-5, plus-7, in his first eight games, but he is just 2-2-4, minus-2, in his last 13 games.  In 13 career games against the Caps, Fowler is 0-8-8, minus-6.

So, who will it be in goal? Will it be Ryan Miller, the third-leading active goaltender in wins against the Caps (19) and who is 3-0-2, 2.61, .919 in five games this season?  Or will it be the goalie the Ducks hope will be their number one for years to come, Josh Gibson, who is 7-9-0, 2.83, .915 this season, but is just 1-2-2, 3.22, .901, with one shutout in six career appearances against the Caps?  Miller has lost his last two decisions, both in overtime at home, to Chicago and Detroit, stopping 66 of 73 shots in the two games (.904), after stopping 92 of 99 shots (.929) in four appearances (three wins and a no-decision) to start his season.  Gibson has been streaky, winning his first three decisions of the season, losing a pair of consecutive games, and then after beating Buffalo to end that streak, lost four in a row.  He is 3-3-0 in his last six decisions, 3.34, .904. Miller has won his only two appearances against the Caps with the Ducks, stopping 42 of 46 shots (.913), one win on home ice (a 5-2 win last February) and one in Washington (a 6-5 win in December 2018 in which he relieved Gibson).  Gibson is 1-1-1 in Washington in his career with a 4.94 GAA and a .855 save percentage. 

1.  Anaheim is 30th in the league in shots on goal per game (28.60, and they have yet to win a game when out-shooting the opposition (0-6-1) the only team without such a win left.

2.  Conversely, the Ducks have 10 wins when out-shot by opponents, the most such wins in the league.

3.  The Ducks don’t play well with others.  They have been penalized 92 times this season, third-most in the league.

4.  Anaheim has only two power play goals on the road this season, tied for fewest with Detroit.

5.  In nine road games this season, the Ducks had a positive shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 only twice, October 14th against Boston and October 22nd against Nashville.  The Ducks lost both games in regulation.

1.  The Caps have had negative shot differential at 5-on-5 in three of their last four home games, minus-24 combined.

2.  After going 0-for-13 on the power play in their first three home games, the Caps are 6-for-22 over their last seven home contests (27.3 percent).

3.  Similarly, after going 10-for-12 on the penalty kill in their first three home games (83.3 percent), the Caps are 14-for-16 in their last seven home games (87.5 percent).

4.  When the Caps were held to a single even strength goal against Montreal in their most recent home game, it was the first time since their home opener that they were held to fewer than three seven strength goals in a game on home ice.

5.  The Caps can do a better job managing the puck.  In eight of ten home games they have more giveaways than takeaways and have 111 giveaways to 78 takeaways on home ice through ten games on the home schedule.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Anaheim: Ryan Getzlaf

Ryan Getzlaf is the grand old man of Ducks Hockey, the only player in team history to appear in at least 1,000 games.  His 1,005 games played with the club are more than 350 more than any current teammate (Cam Fowler: 641).  It should be no surprise that he ranks among the all-time best in club history in a number of categories – goals (269/fourth), assists (668/first), points (937/second), plus-minus (plus-148/first), even strength goals (181/third), power play goals (80/fourth), shorthanded goals (eight/fifth), and game-winning goals (54).  At age 34, though, some chips are appearing in the armor.  After four straight seasons appearing in at least 74 games, he missed 26 games in 2017-2018 to a facial injury and a variety of lesser ailments.  He missed 15 games last season to groin and upper-body injuries.  With the absences came diminished production.  His 14 goals last season made it four straight years with 15 or fewer goals, and his 48 points last season were his fewest in a season since he had 39 points in 57 games in his rookie season in 2005-2006.

Getzlaf has appeared in all 21 games to date for the Ducks, but the production has yet to rebound.  His eight goals are more than half-way to the 14 he posted last year, but he has only six assists in 21 games, perhaps a reflection of how offense-starved the Ducks have been for much of the season.  His ice time seems to be taking a hit as well.  He is averaging 18:06 per game so far this season, his lowest average ice time since he skated 15:04 per game over 82 games in his sophomore season in 2006-2007.  He has been warming up of late, going 5-4-9, plus-1, in his last ten games.  Getzlaf is 7-18-25, plus-5, in 18 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

It does not seem all that long ago that Dmitry Orlov was a second-round draft pick of the Washington Capitals.  But here he is, now in his eighth season with the club, and he has passed Larry Murphy for 12th place on the Caps’ all-time list of games played by a defenseman, and he is within 31 games of becoming the 12th defenseman in Caps history to play in 500 games.  Part of that has been his durability.  If he plays in all 82 games this season, it would be his fifth straight year of playing in every regular season game, and it would leave him as only the third defenseman in Caps history to record five 82-games played seasons (Karl Alzner has six, and John Carlson has five).

It isn’t as if his playing time has been spent unproductively, either.  It is possible that by the end of this season he will crack the top-ten among defensemen in team history in goals (he has 34 and needs eight more to tie Robert Picard for tenth place), points (he needs 15 more to tie Al Iafrate for tenth place), and game-winning goals (he needs one to tie Picard and Matt Niskanen for tenth place).  He is already tenth on the list in assists, tied with Niskanen and Rick Green.

Orlov has had some difficulty recovering his goal scoring touch from his career best of ten goals set in 2017-2018.  He has only four goals in 104 games on 130 shots (3.1 percent) in the season and change since then.  This season he recorded his only goal on Opening Night in St. Louis on what was his first shot on goal of the season.  He is 0-for-28 shooting since then.  If there is a silver lining in his offense, it is that he has recorded assists in bunches – four in a six-game stretch in mid-October sand three over a five-game stretch to close October and begin November.  He is without a point in his last four games, though.  Orlov is looking for his first career point against Anaheim, shut out in ten career games to date with a minus-6 rating.

In the end…

Anaheim doesn’t score much, their special teams are weak, particularly the power play, they struggle with shot attempt differential, and they are 2-4-0 in their last four road games.  One would think that the Caps would have to play down to their level to make this a competitive game.  However, the Caps do not have a great home record so far (5-2-3), losing two straight (0-1-1) since running off a five-game winning streak at home.  And, there might be Ryan Miller facing them in goal, a netminder with a career of success against the Caps.  Even with the recent offensive hiccups, the Caps are too deep to permit the Ducks anything more than a passing glimpse of being competitive in this game.  Or so one would hope, because the games are played on ice, not on paper.

Capitals 5 – Ducks 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 7

The points streak came to an end for the Caps in Week 7, and they had to scramble to avoid the first losing week of the season.  But the club clawed out a win on the road to end the week and preserve their string of good fortune, maintaining their spot atop the league standings after seven weeks.

Record: 2-1-1

The Caps went into their last game of Week 7 in jeopardy of sustaining their first losing week of the season, but they came back in the third period to tie the Boston Bruins and won in the Gimmick.  It was the third time in the four-game week that the Caps had to resort to trick shots to settle a game, winning two and losing one.  It enabled the team to post its fifth straight winning week and seventh time in seven tries at being even or better for a week’s worth of games. 

The two freestyle competitions on the road extended an odd run for the Caps, a fact not lost on the public relations office, which posted on social media… “The Capitals have now played in overtime in six consecutive road games. That's the fourth time since 2002-03 a team has played in six straight road overtime and the first since the Ottawa Senators in 2011-12…The Capitals have won five straight road overtime games for the first time in franchise history.”

The road record at week’s end was 10-1-1, by far the best in the league (St. Louis was 7-2-2 on the road at week’s end).  That the Caps got to ten wins in 12 road contests is amazing, considering that last season the Caps did not earn their tenth road win until their 16th game away from Capital One Arena, and the previous season – the Stanley Cup winning season – not until their 21st road game.

It is also worth noting that when the Caps beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the second game of the week, a 2-1 Gimmick win, it gave the Caps the best 20-game start in team history in standings points earned (32), surpassing that of the 1991-1992 club (30 points).  That 1991-1992 club still has the team record for wins in the first 20 games of the season (15).

Offense: 2.00/game (season: 3.68/3rd)

It was a weak week, so to speak, on the offensive side of the puck for the Caps.  Five players accounted for the eight goals scored in four games, Evgeny Kuznetsov posting three of them.  T.J. Oshie was the other Cap with a multi-goal week.  After that it was a fourth liner (Brendan Leipsic), a call up (Travis Boyd), and Alex Ovechkin.  It was a frustrating week for other Capitals.  Four Caps had ten or more shots for the week without lighting the lamp: Lars Eller (16 shots), John Carlson (15), Tom Wilson (13), and Jakub Vrana (10).  That accounts for 54 of the team’s 142 shots on goal for the week (38.0 percent) without a goal.  And it is not as if these are bottom-sixers whose contributions are expected to be occasional.  On the other hand, it reflects the random, whimsical character of the sport in which a slump can work its way through the lineup, even if for only a week, and even if after a run in which it seemed the Caps couldn’t score fewer than five goals a game.

The points distribution was a bit more balanced and reflected contributions from players who did not light the lamp themselves.  John Carlson tied for the team lead with four points, all of them assists.  Nicklas Backstrom had two points, both assists, as did Wilson.  Vrana contributed an assist and a truly sick trick shot to clinch the win over Boston to end the week.  Carlson’s week was worth special notice in that he recorded a single assist in each of the four games to extend his points streak to six games (1-8-9) after he suffered his only two-game streak without a point.  He ended the week with 32 points in 22 games, a whopping ten-point lead over the second-ranked defensemen in points, Dougie Hamilton and Cale Makar with 22 apiece.

Defense: 2.75/game (season: 3.00/T-16th)

The scoring defense continues to improve, if a bit slowly.  The team faltered some in the 5-2 loss to Montreal in the third game of the week, but Montreal finished the week tied for the sixth-best scoring offense in the league.  It is not a pushover.  And, the Caps also held the team with which the Canadiens are tied, the Boston Bruins, to a pair of goals on home ice.  At the other end, the Caps did as one might expect in holding the 19th-ranked scoring offense of the Flyers to a single goal, but giving up three to the 21st-ranked Arizona Coyotes, all in the first 21 minutes of play in a 4-3 Gimmick loss, qualified as a bit of a surprise.

The record tracked cleanly with the shots allowed trend for the week – a regulation loss when the Caps allowed Montreal 40 shots, a trick shot loss when they allowed Arizona 35 shots, and wins when the Caps allowed Philadelphia and Boston 31 and 23 shots, respectively.  It was the same pattern in shots attempts allowed at 5-on-5, but the noteworthy number here was “68.”  The 68 shot attempts that the Caps allowed the Canadiens at fives was the most allowed in a single game to date this season.  It resulted in a minus-20 shot differential in that contest, the only “minus” that the Caps suffered for the week among the four games.

Goaltending: 2.38 / .922 (season: 2.86 / .907)

Goaltending is another of those fickle aspects of hockey.  Sometimes the goaltenders do well, and the club has a successful week.  Then, the goaltenders’ numbers improve, but the team doesn’t do quite as well.  Such was the case for the Caps in Week 8.  The overall goals against average improved (from 2.67 to 2.38, week over week), as did the save percentage (.922 to .916), but the Caps sustained losses in two of the four games following a perfect three-for-three Week 7.

It was not as simple as that, though.  The glass-half-full story is that Braden Holtby continued an excellent run of late.  He stopped 51 of 54 shots faced in almost 130 minutes of play (.944 save percentage) to bring his record to 9-0-1, 2.44, .924 in ten appearances since he gave up three goals on three shots in a 6-3 loss to Colorado last month.  Holtby’s week was characterized by consistency.  He stopped 13 of 14 first period shots (.929), 17 of 18 second period shots (.944), and stopped 21 of 22 shots he faced in the third periods and overtimes of games (.956).

It was a different story for the rookie.  Ilya Samsonov started the first and third games of the week, and his problem was allowing goals in bunches.  There were the three goals he allowed on 15 shots in less than 21 minutes to open the game against Arizona to start the week.  He finished strong, stopping the last 20 shots he faced, but it was too big a hole from which to dig for the Caps, who lost in the Gimmick, 4-3.  That ended Samsonov’s team record of wins in his first five career starts.  Then there were the four goals he allowed on eight shots in a span of 8:20 in the second period to turn a scoreless tie into a 0-4 deficit.  The Caps found that deficit too large to even salvage a standings point in a 5-2 loss.  By period, Samsonov was very good in the first (.964 save percentage) and third (1.000) periods.  That second period, though; 22 saves on 28 shots (.786).  Take that away, and he had a very good week.  Then again, we understand “Our American Cousin” was a fine play. 

Power Play: 1-for-9/11.1 percent (season: 23.3 percent/9th)

It was the kind of week in which the Caps could barely find enough juice to keep an appliance bulb lit on the power play.  First, there were the chances.  They had only nine in four games, never more than three.  Then there was the lone goal, a cosmetic score in the third period of a game that was already 4-0 in favor of the other team.  Then there were the shots.  The Caps managed only 12 power play shots on goal in 17:21 of man advantage ice time.  It was not that the Caps were not getting the shots from the right people (Alex Ovechkin had four, including the lone goal; while T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom had three apiece), they just did not get enough of them.  That the Caps would get their power play goal against Montreal was small satisfaction, given that the Canadiens penalty kill is awful, finishing the week 30th among 31 teams (71.9 percent).  It was the worst week of the season for the power play in terms of total goals (one) and efficiency (11.1 percent).

Penalty Killing: 9-for-10/90.0 percent (season: 85.7 percent/6th)

The penalty kill had a much better time of it on special teams.  There were the chances allowed, the ten in four games the fewest on a chances-per-game basis over any week so far this season since Week 1.  It was the second time in three weeks that they allowed only one goal.  And the shots were suppressed effectively, the Caps permitting only 10 shots on goal in 18:23 in shorthanded ice time.  And, the Caps did it against largely efficient power plays.  Boston (third), Philadelphia (13th), and Montreal (15th) all ranked in the top half of the power play rankings at week’s end.

Faceoffs: 116-for-232 / 50.1 percent (season: 50.1 percent/13th)

If there was a bizarre category of numbers in Week 7, it was in this one.  In the first three games of the week the Caps did not clear the 50 percent threshold, and were consistently poor by zone, going 28-for-58 in the offensive zone (48.3 percent), 24-for-60 in the defensive zone (40.0 percent), and 29-for-61 in the neutral zone (47.5 percent) over the three games.

Then the Caps visited Boston.  The Bruins are not an especially efficient team on faceoffs this season (20th at week’s end at 49.2 percent), but they caught a weak team without its strongest performer, Patrice Bergeron, who sat out the game on Saturday with a lower body injury.  The Caps took advantage, dominating the circle, especially in the offensive (13-for-18) and defensive (14-for-18) ends on their way to a 35-for-52 effort (67.3 percent) that allowed them to top 50 percent for the week, if only by a single faceoff win among 231 draws taken.

Individually, with a four-game week there were quite a few Caps taking ten or more draws. Nicklas Backstrom led the group of six with a 55.2 winning percentage, and Nic Dowd finished at 50 percent for the week.  What was surprising, or at least a bit odd, was that the three Caps who took fewer than ten draws were near perfect in the circle, going a combined 6-for-8 (75.0 percent).

Goals by Period:

Over the first seven weeks, the Capitals were a dominant team in the second periods of games, outscoring teams by a 28-14 margin and scoring at least one goal in the second period of each of the 18 games.  That dominance was interrupted in Week 8 as the Caps were outscored, 7-1, had their consecutive games streak of second period goals ended at 19 games when they were blanked in Philadelphia and ended the week having been blanked in three straight second periods when Montreal and Boston did it.

The second period struggle was partially offset by a third period goal differential advantage that allowed the Caps to maintain a positive goal differential in each of the three regulation periods this season.


Sure, the Caps are better through 22 games than they were through 22 games last season.  This is, after all, the best 20-game team in club history.  But it is how the Caps got there this season that matters.  So many numbers are trending in the right direction… Goals scored up, goals allowed down.  Shots on goal up, shots on goal allowed down.  Time shorthanded down, power play goals allowed way down.  Faceoff wins up, faceoff losses even.  But the most striking number in the year-over-year comparison in “-107.”  The Caps have allowed more than 100 fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5 through 22 games than over the first 22 games last season, a ten percent cut.  If the fancystatters need validation that such numbers matter over lengthy numbers of games, they have it here.

In the end…

Not every week is unicorns and accordions.  But those weeks can be salvaged with grit and skill.  The grit to claw back in games and drag them into overtime, and the skill to use the trick shot competition to advantage.

A week with a blowout loss and three Gimmick decisions could have gone 0-4-0, if the Caps did not force extra time, or 3-1-0.  As it was, playing on the margins as the Caps did in Week 7 is a bit of a coin flip, but the Caps made a winning week of it and actually gained a point in the standings on the second-place New York Islanders in the Metropolitan Division, who went 2-0-0.  It set the Caps up for a Week 9 in which they will face three teams in varying states of rebuild with a combined record of 4-6-5 in November, two of them at home.  An opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, even if it’s cold outside.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Braden Holtby (2-0-0, 1.39, .944)
  • Second Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (3-1-4, plus-2, 21:31 in average ice time)
  • Third Star: Jakub Vrana, if only for this…

Captain rates the week…

Two puppers