Sunday, December 08, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 32: Blue Jackets at Capitals, December 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home for the first time in ten days when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Capital One Arena.   The Caps come home on a hot streak, winners of six in a row and with the best ten-game record in the league (8-1-1, tied with Boston).  Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are sinking in the standings and are on a four-game losing streak, one short of their season longest.

Then and Now…

This will be the 41st meeting of these division rivals in the all-time series.  Washington has a 24-10-5 (one tie) record against Columbus, 12-3-3 (one tie) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 20-9-5 against the Blue Jackets overall, 11-3-3 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Rick Nash owns most of the meaningful career records in Columbus Blue Jacket history, but Cam Atkinson is second in many of those categories and could end up on top of most of them before his years in Columbus are over.  Atkinson is currently second on the all-time list in games played for the franchise (556), second in goals (191), fourth in assists (167), second in points (358), tied for fourth in plus-minus (plus-24, with Brandon Saad), second in power play goals (41), second in shorthanded goals (12), second in game-winning goals (39), and second in shots on goal (1,673).  Last season he set a personal best in goals scored (41) and posted his second season of 35 or more goals in his career (he had 35 in 2016-2017).

This season, perhaps the loss of Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers in free agency is weighing on him, creating the pressure to be the go-to goal scorer.  He has only five goals in 29 games to date, only two on 53 shots (3.8 percent shooting) in his last 19 games.  His goal scoring on the road has been non-existent.  He has yet to record his first goal outside of Ohio, going 0-for-32 shooting in 12 road games to date.  It is part of a longer goal-scoring drought on the road that extends back to last season.  Atkinson has two goals in his last 22 road games dating back to last March.  Washington might provide a remedy to his problems.  Atkinson is 10-7-17, plus-2, in 25 career games against the Caps.

Staying healthy on the blue line has been a challenge for Columbus.  Only two defensemen have dressed for all 29 games to date, Seth Jones and David Savard.  Jones, a former fourth overall draft pick (of Nashville in 2013) has developed into one of the premier defensemen in the league.  Savard is less renowned.  Taken in the fourth round (94th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft, the 34th defenseman drafted among 70 defensemen taken overall, only four defensemen taken in that draft have dressed for more than the 518 games on Savard’s resume (Victor Hedman: 721, Oliver Ekman-Larsson: 688, Nick Leddy: 683, and Dmitry Kulikov: 651).  He has not been a big point-getter, but he has been consistent, posting more than 20 points in four of his six full seasons before this one. However, like many Blue Jackets it seems, the off-season changes have left him struggling to contribute.  He has only four assists and no goals in 29 games to date and has yet to post a point on the road this season.  Savard is 3-1-4, even, in 24 career games against the Caps.

With the changes in Columbus come opportunities for young players.  The Blue Jackets have dressed six rookies so far this season, a group led in scoring by forward Emil Bemstrom.  Taken in the fourth round of trhe 2017 Entry Draft (117th overall), Bemstrom might not have received a lot of attention in the draft, but with 28 games on his resume to date (all of them this season), he has more NHL games under his belt than any player taken after the second round of that 2017 draft so far.  He has run into a bit of a wall, though.  Bemstrom was 3-5-8, even, in his first 20 games this season, but he is just 0-1-1, minus-2 in eight games since.  At least he has points on the road, though, going 2-1-3 in 12 games.  This would be Bemstrom’s first career appearance against the Caps.

1.  No Blue Jacket appearing in more than three games is so much as “even” in the plus-minus ratings. Four players – Jakob Lilja, Markus Nutivaara, Eric Robinson, and Riley Nash – are minus-1.

2.  The Blue Jacket power play has had its problems in one respect.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals than the Blue Jackets, the five goals tied with Calgary, Buffalo, and Edmonton for most road shorties allowed.

3.  Only three teams have taken fewer penalties than the 91 charged to Columbus (New York Islanders: 90, Winnipeg: 82, and Florida: 82).

4.  No team has taken fewer leads into the first intermission than Columbus (five), and no team has a worse record when doing so (2-2-1).  Ditto with leads taken into the second intermission – four (fewest in the league) with a 2-1-1 record (.500 winning percentage).

5.  Columbus doesn’t blow other teams out.  Their two wins by three or more goals is second-fewest in the league.  Only Detroit, who has yet to record such a win, has fewer.

1.  The Caps don’t get blown out.  Only Boston and Arizona, with one loss by three or more goals apiece, have fewer than the Caps (three, tied with Montreal and Tampa Bay).

2.  The Caps and the New York Rangers are the only teams in the league without a two-goal loss this season.

3.  Washington is tied with Winnipeg for the most one-goal wins so far this season (11).

4.  If the Caps get shots, they win.  No team has more wins when out-shooting an opponent (13), and no team has fewer losses in regulation (one, tied with the Bruins and Islanders).

5.  The Caps are a top-ten team in scoring in every period this season – tied for sixth in first period goals (32), tied for second in second period goals (38), tied for fourth in third period goals (38), and tied for third in overtime goals (four).  They are also fourth in total Gimmick goals scored (six).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Columbus: Joonas Korpisalo

With Sergei Bobrovsky now working on his tan in south Florida, the goaltending duties for the time being fall to Joonas Korpisalo.  He is not a goaltender with a long resume.  Taken in the third round (62nd overall) in the 2012 Entry Draft by the Blue Jackets, he is in his fifth NHL season.  However, his 22 starts this season have already surpassed last year’s 21 starts, and his 11 wins top last year’s ten victories.  Only in his 2015-2016 rookie season did he have more starts (30) and wins (16).  That rookie season (16-11-4, 2.60, .920) gave him a long leash, it appears, to prove himself, and this season he has clear control of the number one spot for the first time in his career.

What Korpisalo has not done since that rookie year, and what he has not done this season, is approach the level of performance that rookie season appeared to foretell.  In 81 games since that rookie season (73 starts), he is 36-30-6, 3.00, .899, with two shutouts.  That includes an 11-10-1, 2.85, .900 record this season with one shutout.  He has been better of late, though.  After going 6-7-1, 3.13, .895 in his first 14 appearances this season, Korpisalo is 5-3-0, 2.38, .909, with the one shutout.  What is ominous about that record is the he lost his last two appearances, despite facing low shot volumes, stopping only 40 of 46 shots in losses to Arizona and the Rangers.  He has had his troubles in limited road action, going 3-2-0, 3.42, .903.  In two career appearances against the Caps, Korpisalo is 1-0-0, 1.16, .958.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

Three games.  It does not sound like a lot, but that is the streak of game without a goal that Alex Ovechkin brings into Monday night’s game, tying his longest of the season.  But no need to panic.  He did have goals in each of the three games before this mini-slump.  It is a case of sometimes the shots going in (five goals on 16 shots in three games) and sometimes the shots not going in (no goals on 12 shots in his last three games).  What Ovechkin has been doing, regardless of being hot or cold, is ramping up his shots.  The 4.74 shots per game he is averaging so far this season is his highest average since the 5.04 shots per game he posted in 2015-2016, although that average still does not rank it the top half of season averages in his career (it is ninth-highest in 15 seasons to date).

Even with the increase in shot frequency this season, Ovechkin is continuing his late career improvements in shooting efficiency.  At 13.6 percent shooting this year, three of his highest six shooting percentage seasons have come in the last three years, including the career best 15.1 percent he had last season (this season’s 13.6 percent is sixth best in his career).  But shots have hardly mattered much, an indicator of the depth of this team.  The Caps are 11-2-5 in the 18 games in which Ovechkin recorded five or more shots on goal, 11-2-0 in the 13 games in which he had fewer than five shots on goal.  In 34 career games against Columbus, Ovechkin is 17-8-25, minus-13.

In the end…

Columbus doesn’t score much on the road (second fewest goals scored on the road this season: 29), and they don’t defend well (44 goals on the road).  And here is another nugget to chew on.  In each of the last five seasons in the Caps’ first home game following a road trip that included the California trip, they won, twice against Winnipeg, once each against Carolina, Minnesota, and the Islanders.  Time to add the Blue Jackets to that list.

Capitals 5 – Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 10

Week 10 was “California Week” for the Washington Capitals, and what a week it was.  The Caps began the week with a seven-point lead on the division, and three games – three wins – later, they had a nine-point lead on the division. 

Record: 3-0-0

When the Capitals embarked on their trip to California, it was the seventh straight season in which the Caps would face all three California teams on the same trip.  The Caps had not swept any of the six previous trips, and only once – in 2013-2014 – did they earn points in all three games (2-0-1).  In 18 games over the six previous trips, the Caps compiled an 8-8-2 record, 4-2-0 in San Jose against the Sharks, 1-3-2 in Los Angeles against the Kings, and 3-3-0 in Anaheim against the Ducks.

In 90 minutes over three games, the Caps trailed for a grand total of 10:58, all of it in the first game of the three against the Sharks.  That span of time between the Sharks scoring the first goal of the game and garnet Hathaway tying it was the only time the Caps trailed during the week as they swept the California teams on the same trip for the first time in Capitals history (they beat all three teams in 1993-1994, but not all three on the same trip).

With the three wins, the Caps held on tightly to the best record in the league and had their best 31-game start in team history (49 points, surpassing the 48 points that the 2015-2016 team compiled through 31 games (23-6-2).  The sweep in California also extended the Caps’ winning streak to six games by week’s end, matching their longest of the season (Games 13-18, October 25th through November 9th).  And, since starting the season with a 3-2-2 record, the Caps are 19-2-3.

Offense: 3.67/game (season: 3.61/3rd)

Six Capitals shared the 11 goals scored for the week.  Oddly enough, Alex Ovechkin had none of them, his streak of games without a goal by week’s end reaching three, matching his high for the season.  John Carlson and Jakub Vrana picked up the slack by posting three goals apiece.  Carlson’s three goals put him in the lead in goal scoring among defensemen with 11, one more than Carolina’s Dougie Hamilton.  He had six points for the week to lead the Caps and extend his points lead among defensemen to a whopping 15 points, 43 to 28 for Hamilton and Colorado’s Cale Makar.  Vrana’s three goals gave him 15 for the season, all of them at even strength and tying Boston’s Brad Marchand and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl for the league lead in even strength goals.

Garnet Hathaway was the other Capital with a multi-goal week, getting both of his in the Caps’ 5-2 win in San Jose to start the week.  It was his second career multi-goal game, his first coming with the Calgary Flames last season in a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on October 21, 2018.  The other three goals were scored by three Caps in three different situations.  Travis Boyd scored the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 3-2 win over Anaheim, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored a power play goal in the same contest, and Tom Wilson scored an empty net goal in the 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings.

The Caps had 12 skaters record points for the week.  In addition to Carlson (six) and Vrana (four), five other Caps had a pair: Hathaway (2-0-2), Dmitry Orlov (0-2-2), Nic Dowd (0-2-2), Lars Eller (0-2-2), and T.J. Oshie (0-2-2).

Defense: 1.67/game (season: 2.77/11th)

Playing well on the road is often a matter of simplifying the game and playing within system boundaries.  One could argue the Caps did just that, and it was reflected in the defensive statistics.  None of the three opponents managed as many as 30 shots on goal (Anaheim had 29).  It extended the Caps’ string of games holding teams under 30 shots to four, matching their longest such streak of the season that occurred in the first four games of the season.  The four straight games holding opponents to fewer than 30 shots on the road is their longest of the season, surpassing the only consecutive road games in which they did so, their first two road games of the season.

The shot attempts at 5-on-5 had an odd quality.  The Caps were edged in 5-on-5 shot attempts in the 5-2 win over San Jose, 47-45, and they had a reasonably health edge in shot attempts at fives in the 3-1 win over Los Angeles, 41-34, including a plus-9 when ahead.  But against Anaheim, the Caps finished minus-16 (53-37).  This was due to the Ducks setting a season high in total missed shots for a single game (28).  Only four of the 18 skaters for the Ducks failed to record at least one.  And, the Caps were consistent.  Only once in nine periods for the week did they allow more than ten shots on goal (14 to the Ducks in the first period of that contest).

Goaltending: 1.67 / .935 (season: 2.67 / .912)

The Caps continue to get improved goaltending play overall and are getting solid performances from both Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov individually.  Samsonov has been especially impressive among rookies.  He won his seventh game of the season when he stopped 22 of 23 shots in the 3-1 win over the Kings in the middle game of the week.  That win total is second among all rookie goalies (New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood has eight).  His 2.42 goals against average is fourth among the 13 rookie goaltenders to dress this season and best among those appearing in more than two games.  The same applies to his .917 save percentage, fourth among all rookie goalies and best among those appearing in more than two games.

Holtby got the first and last games of the week, allowing two goals in each and stopping 50 of 54 shots overall.  He is now 14-1-2, 2.42, .924 in his last 17 appearances.  Holtby was especially sharp early in games in Week 10, stopping 55 of 57 first and second period shots on goal (.965 save percentage). 

The goaltending has become very consistent, too.  The Caps have not had consecutive performances in goal with a save percentage under .900 since Holtby had three consecutive games under .900, October 4th through October 10th.

Power Play: 1-for-7/14.3 percent (season: 24.5 percent/5th)

Lost in the wins was a rather forgettable week for the power play, and there was a sameness to it.  The Caps had only seven opportunities, the third consecutive week they had seven chances in a third consecutive three-game week, tying their fewest chances for a week so far this season.  They managed one goal on 14 shots in 13:46 in power play ice time, a very average sort of week for shooting efficiency.  The Caps got shots on goal from players they wanted – Ovechkin had six, Oshie had three, and Kuznetsov had a pair – but Kuznetsov was the only one to find the back of the net.  However, although the Caps had something of an off week in Week 10 on the power play, they are 5-for-20 (25.0 percent) in eight games since Nicklas Backstrom last played (November 18th). 

Penalty Killing: 6-for-6/100.0 percent (season: 84.0 percent/10th)

It would be hard to do better killing penalties than what the Caps did in Week 10.  There was holding San Jose without a power play opportunity, the first time this season that the Caps held an opponent without a power play chance, the first time they did it since they held the Carolina Hurricanes without a chance in a 4-1 win last March 26th and the first time they did it on the road since they blanked the Hurricanes in chances in Carolina in a 2-1 win on December 4, 2014.

Then there were the shots.  The Caps held their other two opponents to seven shots in six power plays and 10:30 of shorthanded ice time.  True, the Caps beat up on weak power plays, the three California teams ranking in the bottom ten in the league in power play efficiency at week’s end (San Jose/22nd, Los Angeles/29th, Anaheim/30th), but that’s what successful teams do, too.

Faceoffs: 73-for-160/45.6 percent (season: 49.5 percent/19th)

The Capitals seem to have reverted to the weak performances in the faceoff circle that they had for much of last season.  For the second consecutive week they were stuck in the mid-40’s in winning percentage.  And, they were all over the place in Week 10.  Part of the problem might have been that whatever their faults are, and they are many, the three California teams do fairly well in this part of the game, all three of them over 50 percent for the season at week’s end and all of them ranking among the top 13 teams in the league.

As it was, the Caps finished in the mid-40’s in winning percentage against San Jose, rebounded to finish over 50 percent against Los Angeles, but then finished in the mid-30’s against Anaheim for a very inconsistent week.  Where they were consistent was in finishing the week under 50 percent in all three zones.  Individually, Lars Eller had a good week, especially in the ends and particularly in the offensive end, where he did not get many chances, but he won nearly all of them (6-for-7).  On the other hand, Evgeny Kuznetsov (33.3 percent), Nic Dowd (42.4 percent) and Travis Boyd (40.0 percent) had weeks that were not memorable.

Goals by Period:

The goals by period are a reflection of a club that did not trail much, and when it did only did so for a short time.  They allowed the one first period goal against San Jose that put the Caps behind for the only time all week, but they dominated the period otherwise.  They continued their ability to win second periods, although not by a wide margin in Week 10.  It gave the Caps a bit of a cushion for third periods, which they lost in the aggregate, but only by a single goal.  As it is, the Caps and Vancouver were the only teams in the league at week’s end to score more than 30 goals in each of the three regulation periods.


The year-over-year numbers are impressive in that they are so much better in many cases than a very good performance at the same point last season.  Most important, the Caps are three-wins better than a 19-win team at the 31-game mark last season.  Those 19 wins were tied for fifth-highest in the league through 31 games last season.  The Caps have 22 this season, one behind Tampa Bay’s pace through 31 games last season on their way to a record-tying 62-win season.

In other respects, the Caps continue to out-pace last season’s performance through 31 games in many areas.  The goals scored are down a bit, but the scoring defense is improved, allowing ten fewer goals so far than at the same point last season.  As has been the case in weeks leading up to this one, shots are up, shots allowed are down.  Penalty killing is still on the positive change side this season, as is faceoff winning percentage (despite the recent struggles).  Shot attempts-for at 5-on-5 has improved as well.  It paints a picture of a very complete team that competes in a broad range of statistical categories that allow them to win in a variety of ways.

In the end…

The California trip is not the death march along the beach that it was for years for the Caps, but it is still a challenge.  Given those circumstances, even against three teams that have had their share of struggles this season, a sweep has to place Week 10 among the best weeks of the season for the Caps so far.  The variety of the manner in which the Caps win games was on full display.  Whereas the Caps were steamrolling clubs with prolific offense for much of the first third of the season, they held all three California teams (and all four teams on the four-game road trip that started in Detroit) to two or fewer goals, the longest stretch of holding opponents to two or fewer goals for the Caps so far this season.  Over an 82-game schedule, teams have hot streaks, and they have slumps, and strengths and weaknesses are identified and exposed.  At the moment, though, the Caps are a hot team with few weaknesses, and those they do have are being overcome on a regular basis by a deep team at both ends of the ice.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: John Carlson (3-3-6, plus-4, 2 game-winning goals, 11 shots, 17 shot attempts, three blocked shots, 22:15 average ice time)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (3-1-4, plus-3, 1 game-winning goal, eight shots, 12 shot attempts)
  • Third Star: Carl Hagelin (0-1-1, plus-3, led team with 5:46 in shorthanded ice time with no goals against)

Captain rates the week…

Four puppers

Pepperoni, Anchovy, and Marshmallow Fluff Pizza and Dreams of a Record for All Time

In an interview given to ESPN over the weekend, Alex Ovechkin joked that should he break the all-time goal scoring record of Wayne Gretzky, he would instantly retire.  It was an interesting interview, to say the least...

Fueled by a pepperoni, anchovy, and marshmallow fluff pizza, it got us to dreaming just how it might end…

So there it is… New Year’s Day 2025.  The Capitals are hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Dan Snyder Coliseum in Washington in the Bridgestone Winter Classic, a crowd of 68,000 settled in for a white hot matchup on a cold day in the Nation’s Capital featuring bitter rivals. One was rebuilding after the simultaneous retirements of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin before this season, the other was the defending Stanley Cup champion.

The game took on an added importance with a Capitals legend on the brink of making history no one thought possible, taking the all-time goal scoring lead away from Wayne Gretzky. Alex Ovechkin, in the last year of a four-year contract and who once joked about retiring if he captured this record, was widely rumored to be retiring from the NHL at the end of this season.

The game is all it has always been – hard fought and unrelenting.  Pittsburgh opened the scoring on an Alexis Lafreniere goal in the first period, and the Caps tied it just before the final horn of the period. Pittsburgh extended their lead with a pair of goals in the second period, and when they scored in the early in the third period to make it 4-1, it looked as if the Caps would lose their first outdoor game after four wins in four tries.

The Caps crawled back, though, scoring goals less than a minute apart mid-way through the period to make it a one-goal game. Despite a deluge of shots on the Penguin net, though, they could not find the equalizer. Then, with just under two minutes left, the Penguins were hit with a delay of game/puck over glass penalty, and the Caps had one more chance.

With the Caps net empty, they set up a 6-on-4 power play, and as they did so many times before, they worked the puck to John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone. He laid off a pass to Ovechkin in his “office,” and his one-timer from the left wing circle sailed into the top of the net to tie the game, 4-4, with eight seconds left in regulation – naturally – and he tied Gretzky for the all-time goal scoring lead.

In overtime, the Penguins had a chance, but a Lafreniere shot clanged off the post behind goalie Ilya Samsonov.  The long rebound hopped over a Penguin stick, and made its way to Ovechkin exiting the zone. Taking it in stride behind the Penguin defense, Ovechkin skated over the blue line.  While age might have robbed him of some speed, it did not diminish his strength, nor did it quench the fire in his eyes when a scoring chance presented itself.

With a defenseman hanging on his shoulders like a stole, he kept his feet moving, and as he was being hauled to the ice he one handed a shot over the glove of goalie Emil Larmi. The crowd exploded as they realized they not only witnessed a thrilling 5-4 win, but history being made on a big stage by the game’s biggest player.  The players mobbed Ovechkin behind the Penguin net and slowly made their way to center ice.

Standing in a circle at center ice, they raised their sticks to salute the crowd.  As they did so, Ovechkin slowly skated to the center ice dot, and the players turned to face him, realizing something big was about to happen.  He raised his stick high to the crowd, turning to salute each corner of the stadium.  Then, he extended his arm and dropped his stick to the ice, turned, and skated off the ice to make his way down the tunnel one final time, his last game as a Capital and holder of a record that now will never be broken.