Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 36: Capitals at Devils, December 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals kick off a set of weekend back-to-back games when they visit the New Jersey Devils on Friday night to wrap up a three-game road trip.  The Caps come into the contest with eight wins in their last ten games and have not lost a game in regulation to a team not from the state of Ohio (the Columbus Blue Jackets) in more than a month, when they dropped a 4-1 decision to the New York Rangers on November 20th.  The Devils come into this game having won two straight games, both in regulation, the first time they won consecutive games in regulation since Games 7 and 8 in mid-October and only for the fourth time overall all season.

Then and Now…

This will be the 215th meeting in the all-time series between the Caps and the Devils.  Washington has a 111-75-15 (13 ties) record against New Jersey overall, including its Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies in carnations, and a 46-46-7 (seven ties) record on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 29-16-11 overall against the Devils and 13-10-4 on the road.  The Capitals were 3-1-0 against New Jersey in last season’s series and are 16-1-2 in the last 19 games played between the teams.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Taylor Hall is gone.  He took his six goals and 25 points this season to Arizona to try and help the Coyotes reach the playoffs.  His departure leaves the Devils with one player in double digits in goals and one player with at least 20 points this season.  That would be Kyle Palmieri (13-8-21).  Now in his fifth season with the Devils after spending his first five seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, Palmieri has been as consistent as a player can possibly be.  In those five seasons with the Devils he has averaged 0.36 goals per game, never averaging less than 0.33 nor more than 0.39 in any season.  He had averaged 0.68 points per game over his five seasons, never less than 0.64 nor more than 0.71 in any season.  He will not wow anyone, but you can pencil him into the lineup and count on 20-25 goals and 50 points or so.

This season, Palmieri is on a pace to post his first 30-goal season (32), although his 20-assist pace would keep him hovering about that 50-point threshold.  The problem, though, and one that might be exacerbated with the departure of Hall, is that Palmieri’s scoring has not been nearly enough.  He has goals in 11 games, and the Devils are 5-4-2 in those contests.  He has points in 17 games, and the Devils are 8-5-4 in those games.  But in the 16 games in which he does not have a point, New Jersey is 3-12-1.  There just isn’t enough depth past Palmieri to make up for his absence on the score sheet, and he is not a sufficiently prolific scorer to make a difference between the Devils being a competitor and being a lottery team.  In 18 career games against the Caps, Palmieri is 5-3-8, minus-1.

From 2009-2010 through last season, he was eighth among all defensemen in goals scored (98), 11th in assists (310), 12th in points (408), fifth in power play goals (45), fifth in power play points (178). He finished sixth in voting for the Calder Trophy as a rookie, three times he was a Norris Trophy finalist as top defenseman (winning once), twice he was named to the first team of the NHL All-Star squad, and once named to the second team.  And then, P.K. Subban, after six seasons a Montreal Canadien and three a Nashville Predator, became a New Jersey Devil.  Traded to New Jersey by Nashville with Adam Helewka for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 second-round draft pick and a 2020 second-round draft pick, Subban was going to provide the punch from the blue line to complement the young fire power the Devils were assembling – Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier – along with Taylor Hall that would make the Devils playoff contenders

And then, reality hit.  Subban was 2-3-5 in his first 12 games with his new club.  Not jump off the page numbers, but not bad.  The Devils were not responding as a group, though, going 3-5-4 in those 12 games.  It got worse.  Over the next 21 games, leading up to Friday’s matchup with the Caps, the Devils went 8-12-1, they fell out of touch with playoff contenders, and Hall was traded to the Arizona Coyotes.  Did we mention that Subban does not have a point in those 21 straight games?  And is a minus-11?  And is getting more attention about his marketing activities and with whom he is keeping company than his production on the ice?  It is hard to believe that Subban, who is only a season and change removed from being a second-team NHL All-Star and Norris finalist, has lost his game, but he certainly seems lost on the ice for the moment in New Jersey.  And if the Devils have any thoughts of moving him as part of a more general sell-off, ridding themselves of a $9.0 million cap hit that runs through the 2012-2022 season will be a difficult chore.  In 25 career games against the Caps, Subban is 1-7-8, minus-3.

Martin Brodeur, the all-time leader in games played (1,266), wins (691), and shutouts (125) among goalies in NHL history, retired after the 2014-2015 season.  Since then, eight different goalies have dressed for at least one game for the Devils, and the latest contestant to become the heir to Brodeur’s crease is MacKenzie Blackwood.  Taken in the second round of the 2015 Entry Draft (42nd overall), Blackwood was the second goalie taken in that draft, after the Caps took Ilya Samsonov with the 22nd overall pick in the first round.  Blackwood served a typical apprenticeship after being drafted, two more years of Canadian junior hockey and two seasons in the AHL, before sticking with the Devils last season as a rookie backup to Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid, neither of whom are with the team at the moment (Kinkaid is with Montreal, Schneider is with Binghamton in the AHL).

Blackwood has had the typical fits and starts of a young goaltender, losing a couple, winning a couple, showing glimpses of what he could be and falling into stretches where he struggles.  He has not won more than two consecutive decisions this season, although he has seemed to find himself of late.  Despite a 2-1-1 record in his last five appearances (one no-decision), he stopped 137 of 142 shots over that stretch (.965 save percentage) and allowed more than one goal only once, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars on December 10th.  Blackwood has faced the Caps twice in his career, losing both games with a 3.02 goals against average and .895 save percentage.

1.  The Devils went to the Stanley Cup final in 2012, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games.  Among the 30 teams playing in all the seasons since, only two teams have fewer wins than the Devils (238) – Arizona (235) and Buffalo (205).

2.  Since that Cup final, the Devils have been no stranger to extra time decisions, at least being on the wrong end of them.  The 88 extra time losses they have over the last eight seasons is most in the league through Wednesday’s games.

3.  Never considered an offensive powerhouse, the Devils have scored 1,386 goals over the last eight seasons since their trip to the Cup final, fewer than any of the teams playing all of those seasons except Buffalo (1,347).  This season, they are tied with Detroit for fewest goals scored (79 through Wednesday’s games).

4.  The Devils have been particularly bad in finishing games.  Their minus-20 goal differential in the third periods of games (21 goals for, 41 goals against) is exceeded only by Detroit (minus-24).

5.  New Jersey cannot hold late leads at home.  They are the only team in the league with a winning percentage under .500 when leading after two periods on home ice (.444/4-3-2).

1.  Washington has six losses in regulation this season.  Five of them were by three or more goals, three of those on home ice.

2.  In the four games to date following a loss by three or more goals, the Caps are 3-0-1.

3.  Washington is the only team in the league with a winning percentage over .500 when trailing on the road after two periods (.600).  Not that they have trailed much, only five times in 19 road games, winning three times.

4.  The Caps have seven empty net goals on the road this season, most in the league (Carolina has five).

5.  Washington could do a better job of protecting the puck on the road.  Their 185 giveaways are most in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Travis Zajac

Players come (P.K. Subban), and players go (Taylor Hall), but Travis Zajac is the player who has been through just about everything with the Devils.  When he takes the ice on Friday night against the Capitals, he will tie Scott Stevens for third place on the all-time franchise list for games played (956).  The 14-year veteran (all with New Jersey) is fifth on the all-time franchise list for goals scored (190), seventh in assists (327), fourth in points (517), fifth in power play goals (52), and tied for fourth in shorthanded goals (11).  Only six forwards active in the league have logged more shorthanded minutes than Zajac (1,757).

Now, Zajac is the second oldest player on the club at age 34 (defenseman Andy Greene is 37), and his production is lagging behind previous years.  With four goals in 33 games he is on a pace to finish with ten, which would be his lowest total for any season in which he played more than 50 games.  His ten points to date put him on a pace to finish with 25, which would match his low for a season in which he played more than 50 gamees (25 points in 74 games in 2014-2015).  He, like a number of teammates, seems to have worn down a bit in his production as the season wears on.  After going 1-3-4, plus-1, in his first seven games, Zajac is 3-3-6, minus-4, in his last 26 games and has only one point (a goal) in his last nine games.  He is 7-20-27, plus-1, in 46 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen is on a long stretch of bad luck in the offensive end of the ice.  Dating back to last season he has played in 55 games for the Caps, and he is still looking for his first goal as a Capital.  That’s 55 games, 58 shots on goal, and no red lights lit.  Had those 55 games been played in a single season, he would be only the seventh Capital defenseman in team history to play in at least 55 games in a season without scoring a goal (Rod Langway, Joe Reekie, and Brooks Orpik all did it more than once; Peter Anderson, Rick Berry, and Randy Holt were the others).  It is not as if he has been incapable of getting shots to the net; he has shots on goal in 20 of 35 games played this season, including a high of five shots on goal against Anaheim last month. 

In the context of this game, it gets worse for Jensen, or he is long past due, depending on how one wants to look at it.  Jensen has one goal scored in 127 career games played on the road (February 19, 2017, against Pittsburgh).  Only two active defensemen have played more road games with as many or fewer goals – Vancouver’s Troy Stecher (one goal in 128 career road games) and Detroit’s Patrick Nemeth (one goal in 141 career road games).  Jensen is 1-1-2, plus-2, in nine career games against New Jersey.

In the end…

The Caps score more than a goal per game more than the Devils, and they allow more than half a goal per game less than New Jersey.  The Caps’ power play is almost ten percentage points better than the Devils.  They have six goals scorers in double digits to one for New Jersey.  They have seven players with at least 20 points to one for the Devils.  Even accounting for venue, the Caps being on the road, this game should not be close.  Then again, that’s why they play the games. 

Capitals 5 – Devils 2

Washington Capitals: The All-Decade Stuff

As the 2010’s come to a close, many will look at All-Decade this, and All-Decade that.  Far be it from us to tarnish this great tradition.  With that in mind, we take a look back at some All-Decade thoughts on the Washington Capitals.  Of course, your opinion might differ, so think of these as conversation starters (all statistics are through December 12th). 

Team of the decade (regular season…we know what the All-Decade playoff team was):

2015-2016 (56-18-8, 120 points)

The 2015-2016 Capitals squad had the most wins, the fewest losses in regulation, were second in both scoring offense and scoring defense, ranked top-five in both power play (fifth) and penalty kill (second), and they had the third-best combined 5-on-5 shooting and save percentage in the league.  The 56 wins tied for ninth-most all-time in the league and is the third-highest total since the 2004-2005 dark season (Detroit had 58 wins in 2005-2006; Tampa Bay had 62 wins last season).  Individually, the Caps had six players with at least 20 goals, seven with at least 40 points, while 18 different skaters recorded at least one game-winning goal.  Braden Holtby tied a league record in wins by a goaltender with 48, while finishing eighth in save percentage and sixth in goals against average among 34 goalies with at least 2,000 minutes played.  Holtby won the Vezina Trophy as top goalie, was named to the first team NHL All-Star squad and finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting for most valuable player.  Alex Ovechkin won the Richard Trophy for top goal scorer, finished sixth in Hart Trophy voting, and was named to the second team of the NHL All-Star squad at left wing. 

Honorable Mention:
  • 2016-2017 (55-19-8, 118 points).  Led league in standings points for second consecutive year, top scoring defense in the league, best combined shooting and save percentages at 5-on-5, five 20-plus goal scorers, six players with 40-plus points.  Holtby finished second in Vezina Trophy voting, was named to second team on NHL All-Star squad.
  • 2019-2020 (23-5-5, 51 points).  The calendar requires that the 2019-2020 team be considered.  While it is on pace to post decade highs in wins (57), points (127), and scoring offense (3.55 goals per game), the season is incomplete.  However, Alex Ovechkin is on a pace for a 52-goal season, John Carlson is on a pace for 112 points and a plus-47, and Braden Holtby is on a pace for his fourth career 40-win season.

Performance of the decade (regular season):

Alex Ovechkin, 2012-2013.  Ovechkin was the only player to top 30 goals in the abbreviated season (32 goals in 48 games, tied for third in points, and led the league by a wide margin in power play goals (16, to ten for Steven Stamkos).  He was named an NHL all-star at two positions (first team at left wing, second team at right wing), won the Richard and Hart Trophies.  Since 2010-2011 through this season, there were six instances of an NHL player playing in at least 40 games and averaging at least 0.65 goals per game.  Ovechkin had three of them, the only player to do it more than once This was his top season (0.67).

Honorable Mention:
  • Braden Holtby, 2016-2017.  It was hard which of Holtby’s best seasons, 2015-2016 or 2016-2017, to consider.  However, in 2016-2017 his goals against average was better 2.07 to 2.20), his save percentage was better (.925 to .922), and he posted a league-high nine shutouts.  The only thing he did not do was win the Vezina Trophy; he finished second to Sergei Bobrovsky. 
  • Alex Ovechkin, 2018-2019.  He posted his eighth 50-goal season (51) and had 89 points, his highest season total since 2009-2010 (109).  He won the Richard Trophy for the eighth time and was named to the first team of the NHL All-Star squad for the first time since 2014-2015 and climbed seven spots in the all-time career goal scoring list, finishing the season with 658 goals (14th place).

Performance of the decade (postseason):

Alex Ovechkin, 2017-2018.  Ovechkin led all players in the post season with 15 goals and finished second in points (27).  His six power play goals led the playoffs.  He was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as most valuable player in the postseason.

Honorable Mention:
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov, 2017-2018.  Kuznetsov led all players in assists (20), points (32), plus-minus (plus-12), and was tied for second in power play points (12).  He finished as the Conn Smythe Trophy runner-up.
  • Braden Holtby, 2014-2015.  Of 109 goalies to log at least 500 minutes in a postseason since 2005-2006, Holtby’s performance in the 2015 postseason is the sixth best in goals against average (1.71) and third-best in save percentage (.944).  Both of those marks led the 2015 postseason. 

Moment/Game Performance of the decade (regular season):

Alex Ovechkin’s 1,000th point (January 11, 2017).  Ovechkin reached many milestones in the decade – 500 goals, 600 goals, most career points by an NHL player born in Russia among them.  None, though, would seem to match his reaching the career 1,000 point, given the circumstances and the opponent.  The Capitals went into a mid-January game hosting the arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins tied with the Pens and the New York Rangers in second place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Ovechkin entered the game with 999 career points.  It took him 35 seconds to record his 1,000th point:

He scored another goal later in the contest, and the Caps beat the Penguins, 5-2.

Honorable Mention:
  • Nicklas Backstrom, five-point performance on November 16, 2016.  The Caps opened the season with a shootout loss in Pittsburgh to the Penguins. The teams met for the first time during the season in Washington in mid-November.  Both teams were trying to stay within range of the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers, the Penguins four points back in second place and the Caps six points out of the lead in fourth place.  T.J. Oshie opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the eighth minute of the game, but then Backstrom went to work.  He posted a goal and an assist less than three minutes apart late in the first period to give the Caps a 3-0 lead at the first intermission.  He assisted on a Dmitry Orlov goal in the second to extend the lead and helped the Caps put things away with an assist on a Justin Williams power play goal early in the third period to make it 5-0.  After the teams exchanged goals, Backstrom closed the scoring with just over three minutes left on a goal to give the Caps their final 7-1 margin.  Backstrom finished 2-3-5, plus-3, and he won 18 of 27 draws in 17:49 of ice time.  It was the 42nd five-point game in team history and the first time it was accomplished by a Capital at home against Pittsburgh.
  • Tomas Vokoun, 42 save shutout vs. FLA on February 7, 2012).  Tomas Vokoun makes a surprise visit here, but this instance was historic in franchise history.  The Caps were struggling when the Florida Panthers visited Washington in early-February, going 6-6-2 over a 14-game span.  But the odd part about that stretch was that the Caps pitched three shutouts in their six wins, two by Vokoun and one by Michal Neuvirth.  Against the Panthers, Mathieu Perreault scored just 13 seconds into the game, and it would be the only goal Vokoun would need to post his third shutout in ten appearances covering four weeks.  He stopped ten first period shots, 17 in the second period, and 15 in the third for a total of 42 in the Caps’ 4-0 win.  Only three times in team history did a Caps goaltender pitch a shutout facing more shots on goal – Brent Johnson faced 46 shots on goal in a 1-0 win over Ottawa in April 1, 2006; Mike Palmateer stopped all 44 shots he faced in a 6-0 win over Philadelphia on December 21, 1980; and Dave Parro stopped all 44 shots he faced in a 4-0 win over Hartford on November 14, 1981.

Rookie of the Decade:

Evgeny Kuznetsov, 2014-2015 (11-26-37, plus-10, 4 PPG/13 PPP).  The Caps have had some fine rookie performances over the years – Ryan Walter going 28-28-56 in 69 games in 1978-1979, Bobby Carpenter and Chris Valentine each topping the 30-goal mark as rookies (32 and 30, respectively) in 1981-1982, and of course, Alex Ovechkin going 52-54-106 in his 2005-2006 rookie season.  However, since Nicklas Backstrom went 14-55-69 in his rookie year in 2007-2008, no Capital rookie posted ten or more goals with 30 or more points until 2014-2015.  In that season, Evgeny Kuznetsov, still technically a “rookie” since he played in only 17 games the previous season, recorded 11 goals and 37 points along with a plus-8 rating, making him only the third rookie in team history to achieve the rookie triple of at least ten goals, at least 35 points, and at least a plus-10 rating.  Backstrom did it in 2007-2008 (14-55-69, plus-13), and Rolf Edberg did it in 1978-1979 (14-27-41, plus-2).

Honorable Mention:
  • John Carlson, 2010-2011 (7-30-37, plus-21, 3 GWG, 22:39 avg ice time).  This might be the toughest call of all the decade categories.  John Carlson is another of those “technical” rookies who played some games in the previous season, but he is the only rookie defenseman in team history, as the term is defined by the NHL, to dress for all 82 games of a regular season (Gord Lane played all 80 games as a rookie in the 1976-1977 season).  He is one of only three rookie defensemen in Caps history to post at least five goals and at least 30 points in his rookie season (Robert Picard was 10-27-37 in 1977-1978, and Greg Theberge was 5-32-37 in 1981-1982).  Carlson is the only one to post that double and a positive plus-minus rating (plus-21).
  • Braden Holtby, 2010-2011 (10-2-2, 1.79, .934, 2 shutouts)/Michal Neuvirth, 2010-2011 (27-12-4, 2.45, .914, 4 shutouts).  It is hard to distinguish between Holtby and Neuvirth, even though the noteworthy numbers they bring to the debate are in different categories.  Neuvirth is the all-time franchise leader in wins for a goalie in his rookie season, and the 27 he posted in 2010-2011 was third among all rookie goalies that season.  He also tied Corey Crawford for most shutouts by a rookie goaltender in that season (four).  As for Holtby, in the same season he led all rookie goaltenders appearing in ten or more games in goals against average (1.79) and save percentage (.934).  He also had two shutouts among his 14 appearances, one of seven rookies to post more than one shutout in that season.

Draft of the Decade:

It is hard to rank drafts given the unique characteristics of the category.  It often takes years before a draft might bear fruit (this diminishes the effects of more recent drafts), and players might produce for a club that did not draft them as a result of trade, waiver, release/resigning, etc. (raising the question of whether returns in trade of drafted players should be considered).  So, rather than rank them, we will just note three drafts of consequence.

2012.  Caps fans remember this draft for the player who did not dress for the Caps (cough – Forsberg – cough).  But no draft produced more man-games played by skaters for the Caps than did the 2012 draft (803).  Ten skaters were selected, five of whom dressed for the Caps at some point in their respective careers.  The leader is Tom Wilson, who through Thursday dressed for 487 games.  Wilson is the prize of this draft, posting 68 of the 87 goals scored by this draft class for the Caps, 97 of the 141 assists, 165 of the 228 points, and 974 of the 1,027 penalty minutes.  Of course, this draft also has the one that got away, Filip Forsberg having played all 419 of his NHL regular season games for the Nashville Predators after being taken 11th overall in this draft by the Caps.  The others in this draft to play for the Caps include: Chandler Stephenson (14-19-33, plus-2, in 168 games), Connor Carrick (1-5-6, minus-11, in 37 games), Riley Barber (0-0-0, even, in three games with Washington), and Christian Djoos (4-20-24, plus-22, in 108 games with the Capitals).

2010.  Where the 2012 draft was a study in “quantity,” the 2010 draft is one of “quality.”  Specifically, this was the “Evgeny Kuznetsov” draft.  Although this draft has more goals than the 2012 draft (114 to 87), more assists (259 to 141), and more points (373 to 228), Kuznetsov has almost the entire output (113-255-368).  Two other players among the five taken by the Caps in this draft played for the team – Stanislav Galiev (1-3-4, plus-3, in 26 games) and goaltender Philipp Grubauer (43-31-11, 2.29, .923 in 101 games).

2014.  Picking a third draft was not simple.  There was the 2013 draft, the “Andre Burakovsky” draft, but of the six players taken in that draft, four dressed for the Caps, and three of them (Burakovsky, Madison Bowey, and Zach Sanford) skate for other teams, leaving Tyler Lewington as the lone survivor of that draft with the Caps.  There was the 2015 draft, which is still a “futures” draft, Ilya Samsonov and Jonas Siegenthaler the only players among the four taken to reach the NHL but still in the early stages of the NHL phase of their development.  That leaves the 2014 draft, which is the “Jakub Vrana” draft.  Vrana is one of three players from that draft to have dressed for the Caps, but he dominates the numbers – 209 of 222 man-games played, 55 of the 56 goals, 53 of the 55 assists, and 108 of the 111 points.  Of the other two players to dress for the Caps from that draft – Nathan Walker and Shane Gersich – only Gersich is still with the organization.

All-Decade Team:

So, there you have it.  It’s been quite a decade.