Friday, January 31, 2020

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 52: Capitals 5 - Senators 3

The Washington Capitals took to the road on Friday night with a date against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre.  The Caps were trying to rinse away the bitter after taste of a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night while the Senators were looking to measure themselves and the state of their rebuild against the top team in the league standings.

First Period

The Caps opened the scoring on a heads-up play, quite literally, from John Carlson.  Collecting the puck high in the offensive zone, He spied Evgeny Kuznetsov working his way across the middle and T.J. Oshie setting a screen in front.  Carlson directed a slap pass in their direction.  It was Oshie credited with a deflection past goalie Marcus Hogberg’s right pad at the 4:10 mark to open the scoring.

Washington got the first power play of the evening when Thomas Chabot was sent off for slashing at 7:26 of the period.  The Caps did not convert, but they did add to their lead in the 12th minute of the period when Jakub Vrana sent a puck through the top of the crease to Kuznetsov lurking at the post to Hogbergs’ left.  Kuznetsov stuffed the puck past Hogberg’s left pad before the goalie could get across, and although there was some mystery to whether or not the puck went it, it was lodged under the skirt at the bottom of the net, and the Caps had a 2-0 lead 11:22 into the period.

Ottawa had a chance to cut into the lead with just over seven minutes left in the period when Vladislav Namestnikov was spring loose and alone on goalie Ily Samsonov, but Samsonov knocked the shot down with his glove and smothered it to prevent a rebound chance.  There would be no more scoring in the period, and the Caps went off to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.

-- The Caps had a 16-5 edge in shots for the period and a 25-13 advantage in shot attempts.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on goal and nine shot attempts.

-- Deuces were wild for Jakub Vrana in the first period – two assists and a plus-2 in 5:02 of ice time.

Second Period

The Caps got the first power play of the period once more when Dylan Demelo was sent off for holding at the 2:18 mark.  The Caps did not convert the man advantage, and the teams resumed playing at 5-on-5.

The Caps did get a chance to add to their lead shortly after the power play ended, Nick Jensen finding Carl Hagelin for a breakaway.  Hagelin tried to get Hoberg sliding to open the five-hole, but Hagelin shot the puck into Hogberg’s right pad, and the chance was foiled.

Washington was awarded their second power play of the period when Scott Sabourin was sent to the box for tripping at the 5:38 mark.  It would be Ottawa converting though, Chris Tierney converting a goal-mouth pass from Demelo for a tip-in shorthanded goal to make it 2-1, Caps, 7:15 into the period.

The Caps restored their two-goal lead when they flooded the offensive zone on a 3-on-1 break, led by Nicklas Backstrom.  As the gained the zone, Backstrom fed Alex Ovechkin on his right.  Being patient with the puck, Ovechkin called his own number as Demelo was coming across in an effort to defend.  His snap shot beat Hogberg cleanly to the far side, and it was 3-1, 10:26 into the period.

Ottawa would not go away, though.  Thomas Chabot pulled the Senators back within a goal when carrying the puck down the middle into the offensive zone, he used defenseman Nick Jensen as a screen and ripped a shot past Samsonov’s right pad at the 11:31 mark to make it a 3-2 game.

Ottawa got a late chance to tie the game when Dmitry Orlov was hit with a hooking penalty at the 16:44 mark of the period.  Washington killed off the penalty, and the score remained 3-2, which is how the period ended.

-- Ottawa had a 17-10 advantage in shots on goal for the period and a 25-16 edge in total shot attempts.

-- Evgeny Kuznetsov was on ice for both Ottawa goals in the period.  He had one shift after the second one, 30 seconds worth in a span of 8:29 after the second Senators goal.

-- The teams split 40 hits down the middle and split 40 faceoff wins down the middle, 20 apiece in each category.

Third Period

Less than two minutes into the period, the Caps were hit with a bench minor for too many men on the ice to put the Senators on an early power play 1:51 into the period.  It would be the Caps returning the shorthanded favor when Lars Eller broke out down the ice, drawing defenders to him.  He managed to one hand a pass into the middle where Carl Hagelin was filling in.  Hagelin went in all alone on Hogberg and snapped a shot from between the hash marks over Hogberg’s left shoulder to make it 4-2 at the 3:07 mark.

Shortly thereafter, the Caps went short again, Jonas Siegenthaler going off on a hooking call 4:19 into the period.  The Senators converted this one, Artem Anisimov spinning on a loose puck to shoot and beat Samsonov on the blocker side 4:47 into the period.

The Caps got a late power play when Colin White high-sticked Lars Eller in the face and drew blood, resulting in a double minor penalty with 3:42 left in the contest.  The Caps did not convert until the Senators emptied their net, and it was Ovechkin getting his second of the game to ice the matter at the 19:45 mark, the Caps going off 5-3 winners.

Other stuff…

-- John Carlson’s assist on the T.J. Oshie goal in the first period tied him with Calle Johansson (361) for most by a Caps defenseman in franchise history.

-- The Caps allowed their ninth shorthanded goal of the season, tying Detroit for most in the league.  It was the fifth shorthanded goal allowed by the Caps in their last eight games.

-- Alex Ovechkin’s second period goal was his 694th career goal, tying him with Mark Messier for eighth place, all-time.  His empty netter late pushed him ahead of Messier for eighth place.

-- Ovechkin’s second period goal was his 30th career goal against Ottawa, bringing the number of teams he has scored 30 or more goals against to 12 over his career.

-- The win was the Caps’ 20th on the road this season, the 15th time in franchise history they recorded at least 20 wins on the road.

-- Ovechkin recorded 11 shots on goal for the game, the second time he had ten or more shots in a game this season, the second time on the road, and the second time in Canada.  He had ten shots on goal in a 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on October 29th.

-- The Caps out-shot Ottawa, 37-28.  Each team finished with 59 total shot attempts.

-- Michal Kempny finished with a plus-3 rating, the third time he did it this season and the first time since he was plus-3 in a 5-2 win in Detroit over the Red Wings on November 30th.

-- Ilya Samsonov lifted his road record to 10-0-0, 2.20, .919.

-- The Caps allowed a shorthanded goal, their ninth shorthanded goal allowed this season, tied with Detroit for most in the league.  They have allowed five shorthanded goals in their last eight games.

In the end…

It was by no means pretty.  The Caps are a vastly better team than Ottawa, but they let the Senators stick around by playing without intensity on special teams, allowing both a shorthanded and a power play goal to the home team.  But that talent won out in the end, and now the Caps move up several weight classes when they host Pittsburgh in the first meeting of the teams this season.  The Caps will have to be more disciplined and play with more intensity if they are to be successful once more.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 52: Capitals at Senators, January 31st

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head back on the road for a short visit to Ottawa where they will face the Senators on Thursday night.  The Caps will try to shake off a lackluster performance in a 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, while the Senators will be looking to win their third game in four tries and extend their points streak to equal a season-high four games.

Then and Now…

The Caps and the Senators will meet for the 98th time in the regular season on Friday.  Washington has a 51-36-5 (five ties) in the overall matchup and a 21-23-3 (one tie) record in Ottawa.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-15-5 against the Senators, 11-11-3 on the road.  This is the second of three games between the teams this season.  The Caps won the first meeting, 6-1, in Washington on January 7th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

It has taken a while, but forward Anthony Duclair seems to have found a comfortable place in Ottawa.  The six year veteran is in his first full season with the Senators after being traded by the Columbus Blue Jackets with a second round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and second round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft for Ryan Dzingel and a seventh round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft.  The Senators are Duclair’s fifth stop in the NHL after skating for the New York Rangers, Arizona, Chicago, and Columbus.

After posting eight goals in 21 games to wrap up the 2018-2019 season in Ottawa, Duclair kept the momentum going this season with 21 goals in 49 games going into Friday’s contest with Washington. Duclair has shown flashes of this goal scoring ability in the past, posting 20 in 81 games with Arizona in 2015-2016 and 19 in a 2019-2019 season split between Columbus and Ottawa.  What he lacked in the past was consistency, and what he has done now, in his tenure with the Senators, is look for his shot.  Until arriving in Ottawa, Duclair never averaged more than 1.74 shots per game with any of the other four teams for whom he played.  But with the Senators, he is averaging 2.63 shots per game, and the increased volume has not diminished his efficiency.  He is shooting 15.8 percent with Ottawa, the best of his career over any of his five stops.

Duclair has been more efficient and effective scoring goals at home with 13 of his 21 goals scored in Ottawa and his 17.6 percent shooting rate more than six point higher than his road shooting percentage (11.4).  He has been in a goal scoring slump recently, carrying a 12-game streak without one into Friday’s game.  Duclair is 3-1-4, minus-5, in ten career games against the Capitals.

Last season, Thomas Chabot was a top-ten goal scorer among defensemen (14/tied for eighth) and points (55/tenth).  For the first time in his brief career, he received votes for the Norris Trophy (he finished 18th).  This season, he does not rank in the top-50 in goals (four/tied for 61st) and does not rank in the top-25 in points (28/tied for 21st).  His minus-19 is already far and away the worst of his career (he was minus-12 in each of the previous two seasons).  His shooting percentage has fallen off a cliff – 3.0 percent this year compared to 7.6 percent last season and 9.6 percent in 2017-2018 with the Senators.  This might be the price one pays in the development of a young defenseman (Chabot turned 23 on January 30th and is in his fourth NHL season), and he does remain the leading point producer on the blue line, but having him return to the growth path his production displayed over his first three seasons will be an important ingredient to whatever success the Senators have going forward. 

Chabot has been more productive on home ice of late in an encouraging sign for the Senators.  In his last 15 home games he is 3-7-10 and has points in four of his last eight games.  He is 0-1-1, minus-7, in five career games against Washington.

Some players accomplish big things over long careers and compile a long list of honors.  Some toil in a series of situations that are difficult, but they exhibit the attributes of skill and professionalism that make for a long and respectable career.  Goalie Craig Anderson is such a player.  In a 17-year career dating back to 2002-2003, Anderson has appeared in 637 games for four teams.  Ten of those seasons have been spent in Ottawa, where Anderson ranks first in games played (424) and wins (198), ranks ninth in goals against average (2.83; minimum: 50 games), ranks tied for second in save percentage (.914; minimum: 50 games), and ranks second in shutouts (28).

Anderson’s numbers have deteriorated over the last three seasons, mirroring the Senators’ fortunes overall.  In 131 games over those three seasons he is 47-64-11, 3.38, .900, with four shutouts.  Only three goalies in that span have more losses in regulation (Carey Price: 67; Jimmy Howard: 68; and Jonathan Quick: 69), and only five of 78 goalies over the period have a worse goals against average.  It has not been easy for Anderson or the Senators. 

If he gets the call in this game, Anderson comes in with a 1-4-1, 4.26, .876 record over his last half dozen games, although that win came in his last outing, a 28-save effort in a 5-2 win over Buffalo on Tuesday.  Anderson is 11-9-2, 2.61, .915, with two shutouts in 23 career games against the Caps.

1.  Ottawa has the third best net penalty kill at home this season (after accounting for shorthanded goals scored) – 91.0 percent.

2.  The Senators allow the most shots on goal on home ice this season (34.0 per game).

3.  Ottawa has actually allowed fewer goals on home ice at 5-on-5 this season (47 in 25 games) than have the Caps (48 in 25 games).

4.  Only Arizona and Vancouver have allowed fewer first period goals on home ice (14 each) than have the Senators (15, tied with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the New York Islanders).

5.  Ottawa has taken more penalties on home ice (102) than all but two teams (Boston: 108, and Anaheim: 103).

1.  Only three teams have taken more penalties on the road than the Capitals (115): New Jersey (118), San Jose (119), and the New York Rangers (123).  Their 104 minor penalties rank second (New Jersey: 106).

2.  The Caps have scored 95 goals in 26 road games this season.  Only Toronto has more (99 in 26 road games).

3.  The Caps lead the league in third period goals scored in road games (39).

4.  Washington is 8-0-0 when leading on the road after one period, one of five teams with perfect records (Pittsburgh, Colorado, Chicago, and the New York Islanders).

5.  The Caps could do a better job of protecting the puck on the road.  Their 9.77 giveaways per 60 minutes is worst in the league in road games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Brady Tkachuk

The apple does not fall far from the tree on the Tkachuk property.  Keith Tkachuk spent 18 years in the NHL scoring 538 goals and amassing 2,219 penalty minutes.  He is one of three players in NHL history to finish with more than 500 goals and more than 2,000 penalty minutes (Brendan Shanahan and Pat Verbeek are the others).  He has two sons playing in the NHL.  Matthew in his fourth season with the Calgary Flames and has already compiled 87 career goals and 269 penalty minutes in 275 games.  Brady is in his second season with the Ottawa Senators and already has 37 goals and 135 penalty minutes in 121 games.

Brady had an excellent rookie season for the Sens last year, finishing second in his rookie class in goals (22) and points (45), and third in power play points (10) in 71 games.  He also happened to finish second in penalty minutes (75).  He is slightly off that scoring pace through 50 games so far this season on a per game basis (15-14-29 in 50 games), but he does rank third on the team in goals scored and is tied for fourth in points. 

On home ice, Tkachuk has been a bit of a head scratcher.  He leads the team in shots on goal on home ice (79), but he has only six goals to show for it (7.6 percent), tied for sixth on the team.  He goes into this game with only two goals in his last 12 games overall and only one in his last eight games on home ice.  Tkachuk is 0-2-2, minus-2, in four career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Ilya Samsonov

There is little doubt that after Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Nashville Predators, that another log will be added to the fire of “goaltender controversy” in Washington.  Braden Holtby has been inconsistent over the last seven weeks (4-8-0, 3.72, .868 in 13 appearances), while Ilya Samsonov just keeps rolling along in his rookie season.  Over the same span of days over which Holtby has struggled, Samsonov is 8-0-0 (one no decision), 1.62, .941, with one shutout.  He has not lost a decision in more than two months (November 15th in a 5-2 loss to Montreal).

It does not seem to be a function of work volume that explains Samsonov’s success.  He has faced 27.4 shots per 60 minutes in that 8-0-0 run, while Holtby has faced 28.1 shots over the same period on the calendar.  It has not been a function of saves by strength, Samsonov holding a large edge in save percentage at even strength over this seven-week stretch (.959 to .881 for Holtby) and when the Caps are shorthanded (.895 to .833 for Holtby).  The oddest difference of all might be in save percentage when the Caps are on a power play.  Chances for opponents in such situations often come on breakaways or odd-man rushes, which makes Samsonov’s .800 save percentage in this period not unusual (eight saves on ten shots).  But Holtby has stopped only nine of 13 shots in that span (.692).  Further, Samsonov has been consistently stingier.  Over this seven-week stretch, he did not allow more than three goals in any of his nine appearances.  On the other hand, Holtby allowed more than three goals seven times in 13 appearances.

One might have the thought that Holtby is in a slump, and Samsonov is on a streak.  But at some point, seven weeks turns into a “who do we count on” situation, and the Caps might be coming to that point with their goaltenders.  Samsonov has faced the Senators once so far, stopping 26 of 27 shots in a 6-1 win on January 7th in Washington.

In the end…

If the Caps need any more motivation to perform well against a team they might otherwise overlook, it is that they looked so thoroughly discombobulated, especially in the defensive end, against Nashville on Wednesday night.  Doing it in front of a national television audience did nothing for pride, either.  An angry Caps team can be a dangerous team, but only if that anger is turned into focus on a mission to play responsibly.  Fail that, and Ottawa is a good enough team at home to make things uncomfortable for the visitors.

Capitals 5 – Senators 2

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A NO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 51: Predators 5 - Capitals 4

The Washington Capitals returned to the friendly confines of Capital One Arena on Wednesday night in their first home game since their bye/All-Star Game break.  The Nashville Predators were the guests in a nationally televised game.  For a late-January game it had more of a Hallowe’en feel to it with odd things going bump on the ice.  And it ended up being a horror show for the Caps, who dropped a 5-4 decision to the Predators.

First Period

The teams had a feeling out period to start the game, but the Caps got some deep pressure on Nashville in the seventh minute, and they drew a penalty from Jarred Tinordi to go on their first power play of the evening.

The Caps did not convert the power play, but they did score first.  Richard Panik, skating down the right side, skated into the faceoff circle and wristed a shot that beat goalie Juuse Saros cleanly past the blocker and under the crossbar to make it 1-0, 9:28 into the period.

It took the Predators less than a minute to tie the game.  Tinordi made up for his taking an early penalty, one-timing a pass by Filip Forsberg from the left wing circle that leaked through goalie Braden Holtby’s pads the 10:15 mark, just 47 seconds after the Panik goal.  It was Tinordi’s first NHL goal in his 61st NHL game.

Less than a minute after the Tinordi goal, the Caps went on the penalty kill, Dmitry Orlov going off on a holding call at 11:02 of the period.  Nashville converted when Forsberg took advantage of Jonas Siegenthaler going to his knees to soon and threaded a past to Mikael Granlund, who roofed the puck over Holtby to make it 2-1, Predators, 12:52 into the period.

Nashville added to their lead when Rocco Grimaldi took a feed from Roman Josi and found himself behind the Caps’ defense.  He chiseled a shot past Holtby’s left pad, and it was 3-1, 16:02 into the period.

Washington got one back on some bad judgement from Saros.  With the puck misbehaving behind the Nashville net, Saros tried to settle it but he misplayed the puck all the way out into the blue paint of his crease, where Alex Ovechkin was only too happy to slam it into the back of the net, and it was a 3-2 game, 16:26 into the period.

The Caps got a late power play when Kyle Turris was sent off for hooking, but the Caps could not convert the man advantage, and the teams went to the locker room with Nashville maintaining their one-goal lead.

-- Washington had a 15-7 edge in shots on goal and a 29-14 advantage in total shot attempts.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on goal and seven shot attempts.

-- The Caps won 17 of 25 faceoffs (68.0 percent) in the period.

-- Tom Wilson led the team with four credited hits.

Second Period

Nashville opened the period with some pressure in the Caps’ end, but Washington was awarded the period’s first power play when Matt Duchene was ticketed for hooking at the 2:19 mark.  The Caps did not convert that chance, but they got another gift from the Predators not long after the teams went back to even strength.  Richard Panik and Dante Fabbro battled for the puck behind the Nashville net, and Fabbro tried to reverse it to teammate Nick Bonino.  Coming out from behind the net, Bonino tried to clear the puck but managed only to fire it off Saros’ right pad and into his own net with Carl Hagelin bearing down on him, and it was a tie game 6:01 into the period

Washington went on their fourth power play of the evening when Mattias Ekholm was sent to the box for high-sticking Tom Wilson 9:16 into the period.  Wilson made the Predators pay for their infraction.  Off a faceoff to Saros’ left, the Predators took control of the puck below the goal line and Calle Jarnkrok tried to clear it.  His attempt hit Alex Ovechkin and caromed to Lars Eller for a one-timer that Saros stopped.  Wilson was alert for the rebound and got enough on his shot to sneak it under Saros’ pads, and it was 4-3, Caps, 11:06 into the period.

Nashville got a chance to tie the game once more with a power play late in the period when Garnet Hathaway was given two minutes for hooking 15:37 into the period.  The Caps killed off the penalty, and the teams went to the locker room with the Caps holding on to a one-goal lead.

-- The Caps doubled up on the Predators in both shots on goal (14-7) and total shot attempts (24-12) in the second period. 

-- Every Capitals skater had at least one shot attempt through two periods except Brendan Leipsic.

-- Alex Ovechkin averaged 1:15 per shift on 13 shifts through two periods.

Third Period

Both teams went short a man when Panik for the Caps and Ryan Johansen for the Predators were sent off for matching minor penalties, Panik for slashing and Johansen for roughing.  The Caps got a man advantage shortly thereafter when Viktor Arvidsson was taken off for high-sticking, giving the Caps a power play.

Washington was not the one to take advantage against the league’s worst road penalty kill, as the virus affecting goalies handling the puck seemed to infect Holtby, who tried for an outlet pass but coughed the puck up to Johansen.  He skated the puck back into the offensive end and beat Holtby for the tying goal at the 3:00 mark.

In an odd exchange mid-way through the period, the Caps were not awarded a power play on what looked like a well-over-the-line holding call, but Nashville was given a power play at the 11:15 mark when Jakub Vrana was sent off for slashing.  The Caps killed off the penalty, largely on Holtby making some big stops early in the Nashville power play.

Nashville broke in front, though, when Yannick Weber got his first of the season at the 15:23 mark, making it a 5-4 game.  And then, the Caps went shorthanded when Lars Eller was hit with a hooking call 16:03 of the period.  The Caps killed off the penalty to at least give them a chance to tie the game in the final two minutes. They would not be able to get that equalizer, though, and their four-game winning streak was snapped.

Other stuff…

-- Alex Ovechkin’s first period goal was the 693rd of his career, breaking a tie with Steve Yzerman for ninth-place all time and one behind Mark Messier in eighth-place on the all-time list.

-- Richard Panik recorded his first multi-goal game as a Capital and his first since he had a pair of goals for Arizona, including the overtime winner, in a 4-3 Coyotes win over Vancouver on January 10, 2019.

-- Washington out-shot Nashville, 33-24, and they out-attempted the Predators, 66-46.

-- Alex Ovechkin led the team with five shots on goal and 13 shot attempts.

-- The Caps had a 30-18 edge in credited hits.

-- In an odd twist, the Caps posted four goals, but only three assists were credited (Ovechkin, Lars Eller, and Carl Hagelin).

-- Ovechkin led the team in ice time (24:18) and averaged 1:21 per shift for the night.

-- This was the fourth time in his career that Braden Holtby allowed five or more goals to the Predators.  Only Craig Andersen has allowed more five-plus goal games to Nashville (six).

-- Tom Wilson was credited with eight hits to go along with being high-sticked twice.

-- This was the Caps’ eighth straight loss to Nashville and the fourth straight time the Caps allowed five or more goals to the Predators.

In the end…

Once more we point out that there are 20 games a team is going to win over the course of the season, no matter what, and 20 games they are going to lose, no matter what.  This looked a lot like the latter, the Caps unable to play coherently for any appreciable stretch of time.  They were fortunate this game was as close as it was due to Nashville errors in their own end.  Just have to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get ready for the next one.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 51: Predators at Capitals, January 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals have 50 games in the books in the 2019-2020 season, and for Game 51 they return to Capital One Arena in the first home game since the All-Star Game break, hosting the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night in a nationally televised game.  The Caps will be looking to extend their winning streak to five games, while the Preds come limping into the contest with three losses in their last four games and their postseason hopes in serious jeopardy.

Then and Now…

This will be the 31st meeting of the Capitals and Predators in their all-time regular season series.  Washington is 13-14-2 (one tie) in the series overall and 8-5-1 on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 9-10-2 against the Predators overall and 5-4-1 in Washington.  In their only other meeting this season, the Caps took a 4-2 lead into the third period in Nashville, but they were outscored, 4-1, in the last 20 minutes to lose a 6-5 decision.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Nashville has eight players with at least ten goals this season.  Of that group, one of them is a defenseman.  It is hardly unusual that Roman Josi is that defenseman.  With 14 goals this season (tied for second on the club with Nick Bonino), he has posted double digit totals in goals in each of the last seven seasons.  His 97 goals over that period rank fourth among defensemen overall.  He is one of four defensemen in the league in that span to post at least 70 goals and a rating of plus-70 or better (the others include: Mark Giordano (93 goals/plus-81), Victor Hedman (87/plus-108), and John Carlson (80/plus-70)).  It is worth noting that among that quartet, Girodano has won a Norris Trophy as top defenseman (2018-2019), as has Hedman (2017-2018), while Carlson was named by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as its mid-season winner of the award.  However, while Josi finished second in the PHWA mid-season voting, he has never finished higher than fifth in the PHWA year-end award voting.  He might qualify as one of the more underrated players in the league.

Josi has gone cold lately as far as goal scoring goes, but he has upped his assist rate.  He has gone his last 12 games without a goal, but he has 13 assists in that span to lift him into a tie for second in the league in assists by defensemen (34, with Florida’s Keith Yandle).  Goal scoring, though, does have its charms for Josi and the Predators, who have lost only once in regulation this season when Josi lit the lamp (7-1-2).  He also has a reputation as a minutes-eater (third in the league among defensemen at 25:52 per game), but this comes at a cost.  He has skated more than 26 minutes 26 times this season, but Nashville’s record in those games is just 8-12-6.  Josi is 5-7-12, plus-5, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Nick Bonino is one of those players who only seems as if he has been in the NHL since before helmets were mandatory.  But he has played in fewer career games (607) than Taylor Hall (608).  What he has done is get around.  He signed as a free agent with Nashville as an unrestricted free agent in July 2017, making the Predators his fifth NHL team after stops in San Jose (who drafted him in 2007, but for whom he did not play), Anaheim, Vancouver, and Pittsburgh.  He has been a consistent performer in a bottom-nine role as a forward, posting double digit goal totals in six of the last seven years (missing out in 2015-2016 with nine in 63 games with the Penguins) and 25 or more points in each of the last seven seasons, including this one (14-13-27).  He does it never having averaged more than 17 minutes of ice time per game in any of his 11 seasons.  With the Predators over the last three seasons, Bonino has taken on a more important penalty killing role.  He ranks 20th among all forwards over the last three seasons in total shorthanded ice time and ranks 26th in that group who have appeared in at least 100 games in shorthanded ice time per game (2:06).

Bonino is another Predator who has seen his goal scoring dry up of late. He has one goal in his last 15 games and only four assists to go along with it.  It matters as it often does with secondary scorers.  Nashville is 9-2-1 in the dozen games in which he has a goal and 14-5-2 in 21 games in which he registered a point this season.  Odd Bonino fact… Nick Bonino is the only active player in the league to have appeared in 600 or more games, record a rating of plus-70 or better, and do it while scoring fewer than 300 career points.  He is 7-4-11, minus-4, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Nashville has dressed five rookie skaters this season, and perhaps none of them have had more impact than defenseman Dante Fabbro.  The former 17th overall draft pick of the Predators (in 2016) ranks fifth among all rookie defensemen in ice time per game (19:32).  The odd part of that is he is the only rookie defenseman among the top nine in average ice time having played in at least 20 games to record fewer than 10 points (4-5-9).  There is a bit of a disconnect in his game, though.  While his personal shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 of 51.6 percent ranks fourth among those rookie defensemen appearing in at least 20 games, bad things still happen, hi 46.1 percent goals-for-at 5-on-5 ranking sixth among the seven Nashville defensemen to appear in at least 20 games.

While Fabbro is not, at least at this stage of his development, an accomplished offensive defenseman, he has only one point in his last 15 games (a goal) and is a minus-8.  He has only two points (a goal and an assist) in the 15 games he logged at least 20 minutes this season, over which the Predators are 6-7-2.  And, his engagement in the offensive end has not been influential.  The Preds are just 4-10-2 in 16 games in which he recorded at least two shots on goal.  He is without a point and is plus-2 in his only game against the Caps in his career so far.

1.  Nashville can score and score often on the road.  Their 3.52 goals per game is the third-best scoring offense on the road so far this season.

2.  On the other hand, the Predators cannot seem to drive a stake into opponents’ power plays in road games.  Their 68.3 percent penalty kill on the road is worst in the league, as is their net penalty kill (also 68.3 percent).

3.  Only Colorado has allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 on the road this season (35) than Nashville (40, tied with Tampa Bay).

4.  Getting a lead on Nashville when they are visiting is a chore.  Only Tampa Bay (10 goals) and St. Louis (17) have allowed fewer first period goals in road games than the Predators (18, tied with Boston).

5.  Only Vancouver has had more 5-on-3 power play chances (nine) than the Predators on the road (six, tied with Chicago).
1.  In their last ten games on home ice, the Caps are 32-for-34 killing penalties (94.1 percent), the best home penalty kill in the league over that span.

2.  The Caps have a power play goal in each of their last three home games, their longest home power play goal streak of the season.

3.  Only twice in their last 11 home games have the Caps carried a lead into the first intermission.  However, those two games were the last two the Caps played at Capital One Arena, against Carolina and New Jersey, both wins.

4.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps have hosted the Predators ten times.  In the first five, they were 4-1-0 against Nashville, but in the last five they are just 1-3-1.

5.  Goals allowed is as good an indicator of any in this series in Washington.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 5-0-1 when allowing three or fewer goals to Nashville, 0-4-0 when allowing four or more.  Consider this your “duh!” random fact.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Pekka Rinne

At age 37, are we in sight of the end of Pekka Rinne’s run as Nashville’s number one goaltender?  His numbers are sufficient to pose the question.  Rinne’s 2.98 goals against average in 30 games is the worst of his career since he appeared in two games and allowed four goals in 63 minutes in 2005-2006 (3.80).  His .897 save percentage is the first time in his career he has been under .900 in save percentage for a season.  It has not improved for Rinne since Christmas, either, with a record of 3-6-0, 3.12, .900. If anything, though, the road has been a sanctuary for Rinne.  While his win-loss record (7-5-0) is not much different from his home record (9-6-3), his .914 save percentage on the road is substantially better than what he has at home (.885), and his goals against average (.267) is much better on the road than it is at home (3.20).

What will be interesting to watch with respect to Rinne is if his past history as a finisher continues.  Over his career, he has posted a 2.39 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in games after January 1st.  Last year, those numbers were a bit weaker (2.59/.915), and so far this season they are weaker still (2.88/.908 in seven games). 

Juuse Saros is presumably the number one netminder in waiting for the time being, but he has been coming up short of late, too, going 1-1-2, 3.63, .882 in his last six appearances, although his one win was a 28-save shutout in Winnipeg against the Jets on January 12th.

Rinne is 6-1-0, 2.86, .896 in seven career appearances against the Caps, while Saros is 3-0-0, 2.33, .919 in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Travis Boyd

Has Travis Boyd been a good luck charm for the Caps this season?  Well, they are 15-4-1 in the 20 games in which he has dressed so far this season.  If you think that is a fluke, the Caps were 36-13-4 in the 53 games he played last season, and they were 6-2-0 in the eight games he appeared in for his rookie season in 2017-2018.  That is a record of 57-19-5 in his 81 career games with the Caps, a 121-point pace over an 82-game schedule.  And is not as if he has been a passenger.  He is 8-22-30, plus-16 in those 81 career games, with three goals and six points in 20 games so far this season and aplus-8 rating, tied with three other Caps, including Jakub Vrana, for ninth on the team in that category.

Boyd's appearance against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night was his first since getting a sweater on New Year’s Eve against the New York Islanders to close the 2019 portion of the schedule.  He might have gotten that nod as a result of Alex Ovechkin serving his required one-game suspension for withdrawing from the All-Star Game, but he did score a goal on his only shot of the game, a goal that gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish in their 4-2 win over the Habs.  That a Boyd goal and an Caps win going hand in hand is not surprising.  He has goals in eight games in his Caps career, and the Caps won all of them.  The Caps have won the last 13 games in which Boyd recorded a point and are 23-3-1 in Boyd’s career when he recorded a point.

In baseball, Boyd would be a valuable bench player who spells a starter from time to time or pinch hits with barely, if any, drop off in production or performance.  The Caps have the pleasant luxury for the time being of having him serve as the “extra” forward who can jump in at a game-day’s notice to fill in and contribute.  It will make this upcoming off-season interesting, since Boyd will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.  He does not have a point against Nashville in three career games and is a minus-1.

In the end…

Nashville is one of those teams that give the Caps fits. Washington is 2-8-1 in their last 11 games against the Predators have not beaten them since taking a 4-1 decision in Washington in March 2016.  On the other hand, Nashville is just 4-7-1 in their last dozen games, while the Caps are riding the crest of a four-game winning streak and 7-2-0 record since January 1st.  It would seem that this game will largely hinge on which Caps team – the one that can’t beat Nashville or the one that has beaten almost everybody (not Nashville) this season and especially lately.  You know where we are going with this.

Capitals 4 – Predators 3

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 50: Capitals at Canadiens, January 27th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start the new week with Game 50 on their schedule, a visit to Montreal to face the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Monday night.  The Caps will be continue the momentum they built going into their eight-day break, winning their last three games.  On the other side, the Canadiens will be looking to maintain some momentum of their own, having won four of five games (4-1-0) before heading out of town for their own eight-day break.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Canadiens will meet for the 170th time in their all-time regular season series on Monday.  Washington has a 73-74-5 (17 ties) record in the series overall and a 34-40-3 (eight ties) record on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-15-5 against the Canadiens overall and 17-5-3 on the road.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Arturi Lehkonen is tied for the team lead in goals since the first of the new year for the Canadiens (four).  The four goals he has posted in ten games in January brought his total for the season to 11 in 50 games, matching his total for last season in 82 games.  Lehtonen was Montreal’s second pick in the second round of the 2013 Entry Draft, taken with the 55th overall pick (their first selection, goaltender Zachary Fucale, taken with the 36th overall pick, has since moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning organization after spending some time in the Vegas Golden Knights organization and has yet to appear in an NHL game).  After spending the next three seasons in Europe, he joined the Canadiens in 2016-2017, posting 18 goals (a career high to date) as a rookie, tied with Tampa Bay’s Braden Point for ninth-most among rookies in the 2016-2017 class.

Despite the four goals in ten games this month, Lehkonen has struggled to find the net on home ice.  The two goals he posted in a 3-2 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on January 4th are his only goals on home ice over his last 12 games at Bell Centre.  Overall, Lehkonen’s goal scoring has an odd quality to it.  Montreal is just 3-5-1 in the nine games in which he has goals and has lost both games in which he posted two goals, both at home (a loss to the New York Rangers in November in addition to the overtime loss to Pittsburgh).  His ice time also has a strange aspect to it.  Overall, when skating more than 16:30, the Canadiens are 5-9-2 in 14 games.  However, when he skated more than 17:40, they were 5-1-0, while they were 0-8-2 in games in which he skated between 16:30 and 17:40.  Lehkonen is 1-3-4, even, in ten career games against Washington.

Jeff Petry is the points leader among Montreal defensemen in the new year (1-3-4).  He is reached or is closing in on some personal landmarks in his Montreal career.  With three more goals he will become the 15th defenseman in Canadiens history to record 50 goals with the club (unless Shea Weber, who has 49 goals, gets there first).  He is one of 15 defensemen in Canadiens’ history to record at least ten game-winning goals (he has ten).  Before the season is over, he is likely to become the 28th defenseman in team history to appear in at least 400 games for the Canadiens (he has 364 games played so far in Montreal).

Petry is one of two defensemen to dress for Montreal this season to have passed his 30th birthday (at 32 years of age, he is two years younger than Weber).  He has never been an especially prolific defenseman in the offensive end, but he did record his first two career 40-point seasons in the NHL in the two seasons preceding this one, and he is on a pace to make it three in a row this season and match his career high in points set last year (46).  Petry is 3-5-8, minus-1, in 17 career games against the Capitals.

Carey Price deserves mention among the best goaltenders in the history of a franchise known for excellence at the position.  He is the all-time leader in games played for the franchise, which is noteworthy on a personal level since the four goalies to trail him (Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy, Ken Dryden, and Bill Durnan) all are members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.  His 341 career wins for the Canadiens is also most in team history.  The same four hall of fame netminders trail him.  Since Price came into the league in 2007-2008, he ranks third in games played (664, behind only Henrik Lundqvist (759) and Marc-Andre Fleury (696)), fourth in wins (341), seventh in save percentage (.918; minimum: 10,000 minutes played), 16th in goals against average (2.49), and seventh in shutouts (46).

This season, Price is doing his best to keep the Canadiens afloat, leading the league’s goalies in minutes played (2,363), but his numbers reflect the struggles the Canadiens are having.  Among 39 goalies with at least 1,200 minutes played this season, Price ranks 19th in goals against average and 21st in save percentage (.908).  His numbers have been weaker on home ice, a 2.97 goals against average and a .895 save percentage in 21 games played at Bell Centre this season.  What he does have going into this game is a personal four-game winning streak, his longest of the season, over which he stopped 142 of 148 shots and posted a shutout against Calgary on January 13th.  Price is 8-14-5, 3.29, .892, with one shutout in 27 appearances against Washington in his career.

1.  Montreal is among the worst home teams in the league.  Their ten wins at home rank 29th, their 24 standings points earned are tied with Winnipeg for 27th, and their .462 points percentage at home ranks 29th.

2.  Small wonder that the Canadiens have fared so poorly at home.  Their scoring offense (2.73 goals per game) ranks 26th, and their scoring defense at Bell Centre (3.19 goals allowed per game) ranks 28th. 

3.  Montreal is also a bottom-ten dweller in special teams on home ice. They rank 27th on power plays (14.5 percent) and dead last in net power play (with shorthanded goals allowed factored in) at 7.9 percent.  Their penalty kill ranks 23rd at home (78.6 percent), but their net penalty kill (also at 78.6 percent) ranks 28th. 

4.  The poor net penalty kill at home is a product of the fact that they are one of two teams (St. Louis is the other) who have yet to score a shorthanded goal on home ice.

5.  The Canadiens have played in a bit of bad luck at home, or they have been just good enough to lose.  They are tied with Columbus for most one-goal losses in regulation at home (five), and they have lost another four games in extra time.

1.  No team has more one-goal wins on the road than the Caps (nine, tied with Calgary and Winnipeg).  Their .750 winning percentage in one-goal decisions (9-2-1) is tied with Calgary for third best in the league, behind New Jersey (1.000/6-0-0) and the New York Islanders (.778/7-0-2).

2.  Washington is one of just two teams to have lost a single game on the road in extra time (Vancouver is the other).  Toronto and New Jersey have yet to lose a game on the road in extra time.

3.  The Capitals are tied with Colorado for most wins on the road when scoring first (12), and they have the best winning percentage when doing so (.923/12-1-0).

4.  Washington is one of only two teams in the league with a winning percentage of .500 when allowing the game’s first goal on the road.  Both the Caps (6-5-1) and Boston (4-3-1) have .500 winning percentages in those games.

5.  When the Caps outshoot an opponent on the road, they win.  Their 11-3-0 record when outshooting opponents while on the road leads the league in both wins and winning percentage. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Ilya Kovalchuk

Well, give the Canadiens credit for creativity.  In the midst of a dreadful 7-12-3 run that saw them sink from second in the Atlantic Division standings to sixth in the division and 13th in the 16-team Eastern Conference, Montreal went out and signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a one-year/$700,000 contract.  Kovalchuk started the season in his second year with the Los Angeles Kings, who signed Kovalchuk to a contract after he spent five years with SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.  But he lasted just 17 games into the new season, going 3-6-9, minus-10, in 17 games before being effectively relieved of any further on-ice responsibilities in mid-November.  He deal with the Kings was terminated on December 17th, and his career was in limbo before the Canadiens came calling.

One would not call Kovalchuk’s arrival in Montreal the remedy to save the Canadiens’ season, but that is not Kovalchuk’s fault as much as it reflects the broader personnel issues the team has.  Kovalchuk has actually been something of a pleasant surprise.  Since joining the club he is averaging a point per game in eight games, and his four goals is tied for the team lead in January.  Those four goals already surpassed his total in 17 games with the Kings earlier this season (three).  Two of his four goals with Montreal are game-winners, and he scored his first goal at Bell Centre as a Canadien in Montreal’s 5-4 Gimmick win over Vegas just before the break (he added a goal to open the freestyle competition in that contest).  Kovalchuk is 29-30-59, plus-8, in 55 career games against Washington. 

Washington: Braden Holtby

No one wants to say it, at least too loudly, but Washington has a goaltending issue.  Yes, Ilya Samsonov has been electric in goal for the Caps so far, but the key phrase there is “so far.”  As a rookie who has not played in more than 37 games in a regular season since he began his career splitting time between Stalnye Lisy and Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia in 2014-2015, is there a wall he is approaching that he will struggle with and have to battle through as part of his development?

That question adds only more weight to the burden the Caps have trying to get Braden Holtby untracked.  Holtby, who trails only Olaf Kolzig for the top spot in just about every statistical category for goaltenders in franchise history, is in the midst of what is arguably his worst season in ten as a Capital.  His goals against average of 3.09 is the worst of his career, as is his save percentage of .897.  And, it has not been a sudden onset of iffy play.  Since he finished second in voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2016-2017 on a record of 42-13-6, 2.07, .925, and a league-leading nine shutouts, Holtby is 84-44-13, 2.94, .907, with three shutouts in 146 games over three seasons.

Holtby seemed to be climbing out of his doldrums earlier this season when he posted a record of 14-1-2, 2.42, .924 over a 17-appearance run from October 18th through December 6th.  Since then, however, he is 3-7-0, 3.75, .866, and he has been pulled twice in 11 appearances.  If there is a team and a place Holtby can find his game once more, it would be against the Canadiens at Bell Centre.  Since March 15, 2011, when he won in his first appearance in Montreal, a 24-save effort in a 4-2 Capitals win, no goalie has won more often there than Holtby (9-1-1), he ranks fifth among 34 goalies logging at least 200 minutes at Bell Centre in goals against average (1.66), he has the sixth-best save percentage in that group (.941), and he is one of five goalies with two shutouts in Montreal in that span.  If Holtby is going to find a spark in his game, Montreal would be the place to do it.  If he gets the call, and his troubles continue, the Capitals will have an issue with which they would prefer not to deal.

In the end…

The Capitals have 33 games left in the regular season, starting with this game.  And if there is one thing that has characterized this club in recent years, it has been their finishing kick.  Since 2007-2008, when the Caps put on a frantic rush to qualify for the postseason, the team has finished with 20 or more wins in their last 33 games ten times in 12 tries, including in the abbreviated 2012-2013 season.  Twenty wins in their last 33 games this season would place this club fourth in wins for a season in team history (53).  Matching their high in victories over the period (23) would tie them with the 2015-2016 team for wins in a season (56).  And in case you are wondering, yes, the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup winning squad did record 20 wins in their last 33 games (20-11-2).

Getting to those marks requires taking advantage of teams that are struggling.  Montreal qualifies as such a club, especially and strangely enough, on home ice.  Everyone is coming off a break, so there should be no falling back on that excuse for an indifferent effort or an unpleasant result.  They might be rusty, but the Caps have too much depth and skill for their hosts to let this one get away.

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

Week 16 for the Washington Capitals seemed to include a lot more than a week’s worth of action.  In three games Caps fans witnessed goals galore despite a struggling power play, stinginess in the defensive end despite the struggles of their number one goalie, a glimpse of the future in goal, and records falling like autumn leaves courtesy of The Captain.  When it was over, the Caps were once more atop the league standings, a good place to be as they start their eight day bye/All-Star Game break.

Record: 3-0-0

It was a perfect week in the record book for the Caps, but it did not quite seem like one.  They jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead on the Carolina Hurricanes to start the week, but they could not add to that advantage to put the Hurricanes away decisively.  They duplicated their first period effort against New Jersey, getting out to a 2-0 lead, but they let the Devils crawl back within a goal twice before putting that game away late. 

And then there was Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. For the third time in three games the Caps scored first, but the Islanders came back to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission and doubled their scoring output in the second frame to take a 4-1 lead and chase goalie Braden Holtby to the tunnel where backup goalies are seated at Nassau Coliseum.  It looked as if the Caps would post a winning week, but would end it with an effort that screamed “let’s get an early start on the break.” 

But then, Carl Hagelin scored less than three minutes into the third period.  Alex Ovechkin got his second of the game less than three minutes later with a highlight reel goal.  Nine minutes after that, Tom Wilson tied the game by putting his frame in front of a Dmitry Orlov drive and redirecting it in.  Less than two minutes later, the Caps took the lead again with some opportunistic work and a nasty wrister from Jakub Vrana.  Ovechkin put the icing on the cake with an empty netter to complete the comeback and give the Caps a perfect win-loss week, their first since going 3-0-0 in Week 10.  It gave the Caps 33 wins at the break, tied for the second-most wins through 49 games in team history, with the 2016-2017 team.  Only the 2015-2016 team had more wins after 49 games (36).

Offense: 4.33/game (season: 3.55/5th)

There was the good and the bad, even when averaging more than four goals a game for the week.  The good – the really good, in fact – was Alex Ovechkin posting eight goals in three games and recording three straight multi-goal games for the first time in his career, including a pair of hat tricks to end the week.  He scored the team’s first four goals of the week and had the game’s first goal in all three games.  With eight goals for the week, Ovechkin out-scored nine teams in the league for the week.

Jakub Vrana was the other Capital with a multi-goal week, putting the Caps up by a pair of goals in the third period of their 5-2 win over New Jersey in the middle game of the week and then potting the game-winner in the Caps’ stunning comeback win over the Islanders to close the week.  Both goals came at even strength, giving Vrana 21 of his 22 goals for the season at evens, tied with Buffalo’s jack Eichel for third-most in the league.

Carl Hagelin had a pair of timely goals, putting the Caps up by three goals in their 5-2 win over New Jersey and then starting the big comeback against the Islanders with an early third period goal.  The goals in consecutive games came at a welcome time for the Caps and for Hagelin, who had only one goal in his first 36 games before potting goals in consecutive games to end the week. 

Tom Wilson broke a cold snap of his own with the Caps’ other goal for the week, his goal against New York breaking a seven-game streak without one and a run of just one goal in 13 games.  But that would do it for the goal scorers, four players accounting for all of them and Ovechkin accounting for almost two thirds of them by himself.  Scoring balance is a term that cannot be used to describe the Caps’ offensive output, the other 14 skaters going 0-for-60 in shooting.

There was not a lot more balance in points for the week, either.  Eleven skaters did record points, but four of them were held to a single point.  Ovechkin led the team with eight points, all goals, while John Carlson was next in line with five points, all on assists.  Carlson finished the week not only as the only Capitals defenseman to post more than 50 points in the team’s first 49 games of a season in Capitals history (Mike Green had 50 points in 48 of the team’s first 49 games of 2009-2010), he became the only Capitals defenseman to hit the 60 point mark through 49 games and only the fifth NHL defenseman to do it since 1979-1980

In a more modest achievement, Nick Jensen recorded an assist in the win over the Islanders to close the week, snapping a 40-game streak without a point.

Defense: 2.00/game (season: 2.90/11th)

The Caps had a decent week on the defensive side of the puck, holding Carolina and the Islanders under 30 shots on goal.  Even with allowing New Jersey 34 shots, what might be viewed as a “score effect” outcome given the Caps holding a lead from the 15:17 mark of the first period through the end of the contest in a 5-2 win, the Caps extended their run of holding opponents under 30 shots to six of their last seven games and 14 of their last 16 contests.

The Caps also did a credible job in holding down even strength shot attempts.  They allowed 103 shot attempts by their three opponents at 5-on-5 for the week and extended their double-digit shot attempts differential to four games in the process (plus-51 overall).  The Caps did not finish the week with a negative shot differential in any situation (tied, close, ahead, behind) in any of the three games.

Goaltending: 2.00 / .930 / 1 shutout (season: 2.72 / .908 / 1 shutout)

“MedStar, we have a problem.”  It does not have quite the ring of the famous (apocryphal) message from Apollo 13 to NASA Mission Control in 1971, but there is a problem that the Caps are going to have to address out at MedStar Capitals Iceplex over the break, and it is at the most important position on the ice.  The good news is that Ilya Samsonov put his stamp firmly on Week 16 in a good way, pitching a shutout, providing a solid effort in the middle game, and then coming into the last game of the week in relief and keeping the Islanders off the board to give his teammates a chance to come back.  He finished the week with a record of 10-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.60, .941, with one shutout in his last 11 appearances.

On the other side there is Braden Holtby, who is firmly positioned in a slump of the sort that has been rare in his career.  Given a 1-0 first period lead against the Islanders in his only start of the week, Holtby was the victim of unfortunate bounces and his own play to give up four goals on 22 shots through 40 minutes before being relieved by Samsonov to start the third period of the Caps’ game against the Islanders on Saturday.  He was taken off the hook for the decision, but that does little to make things better regarding his play of late.  In his last 11 appearances he is 3-7-0 (one no-decision), 3.75, .866, and he has been pulled twice.  And here is a fact that might chill a Caps fan to the bone if you are looking ahead.  Holtby’s record against Metropolitan Division opponents this season is 2-7-1 (one no-decision), 3.48, .875.  If his numbers generally do not improve, and his Metro numbers specifically, it is going to be a lot of pressure on a rookie goalie to sustain his own numbers and not succumb to a “wall” he might face with a level of workload he has not yet seen as a pro.

Power Play: 2-for-15/13.3 percent (season: 20.3 percent/15th)

Another problem area that merits attention during the break is the power play.  Bouncing along at 15 percent or so is just something that should not happen with this skill level.  But there the Caps are, 10-for-71 (14.1 percent) over the last seven weeks, second-worst in the league (Columbus: 8-for-62/12.9 percent).

The Caps spread ice tie around a bit more in Week 16 on the power play, seven forwards and two defensemen logging at least nine man advantage minutes.  Seven players recorded shots on goal, John Carlson leading with five.  Alex Ovechkin had three shots on goal and the only two goals for the week. One of the power play goals came at 5-on-3, where the Caps spent 50 seconds for the week.  Overall, they managed only 14 power play shots on goal in 24:20 of total power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-11/90.9 percent (season: 84.2 percent/2nd)

On the other side of special teams, the penalty kill returned to an efficient element after a couple of down weeks.  The ten kills in 11 shorthanded situations made the Caps 61-for-71 over the last seven weeks, the 85.9 percent penalty kill being second in the league in that span (Tampa Bay: 64-for-72/88.9 percent).  Even the Islanders scoring a power play goal, breaking a five-game streak without allowing one, did little to diminish the result.

The Caps were not particularly efficient in denying power play shots, giving up 15 in 16:42 of shorthanded ice time, but the plus-7:38 in special teams ice time differential made for a generally successful week.

Faceoffs: 101-for-178/56.7 percent (season: 49.4 percent/21st)

Week 16 was that rarity in the circle for the Caps.  They won all three zones in all three games.  They were especially productive in the ends, where they went 39-for-66 in the offensive end (59.1 percent) and 34-for-58 in the defensive end (58.6 percent).  It was not against the stiffest of competition in that regard, Carolina the only team of the three opponents to finish the week in the top ten in faceoff winning percentage (51.0 percent/10th), but one fights the opponent in front of them.

Individually, four of the five Caps to take ten or more draws for the week finished over 50 percent, led by Nic Dowd, who was 21-for-31 (67.7 percent).  Only Evgeny Kuznetsov among that group was under 50 percent, and that by only one draw (14-for-29/48.3 percent).

Goals by Period:

Overall, the Caps started and finished well.  They scored the first goal in all three games, and while they did not lead at the first intermission in all three (they trailed the Islanders, 2-1, after one period in that contest), they did have a plus-3 goal differential in the first period to pull themselves back into plus differential territory for the first period for the season overall.

Thanks to the five-goal outburst against the Islanders in the third period to end the week, the Caps finished with a dominating 7-1 edge in third period goals.  The 69 third period goals they finished with at week’s end for the season were most in the league, and their plus-20 third period goal differential was also best in the league.


The perfect win-loss week pushed the Caps well past where they were through 49 games last season – six more wins (33 to 27) and 11 more standings points (71-60).  That is, in turn, and product of a 22-goal improvement in net goals (plus-32 this season to plus-10 through 49 games last season).  And drilling down further, there is the net improvement of 231 shots (113 more shots on goal and 118 fewer shots allowed) and a particularly noteworthy improvement of 254 fewer shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5.  These might be thought of as the basic, the simple foundational elements that have contributed to the Caps’ improvement in wins, losses, and standings points over last season.

In the end…

Sometimes the differences from year to year are subtle movements, getting a win instead of an extra time loss, scratching out a point in an extra time loss instead of losing in regulation.  However, as the Caps head into their eight-day break, the differences are not all that subtle.  This year’s club has traded losses in regulation for wins.  True, the Caps do have three Gimmick wins, a total that is tied for fifth-most in the league, but this is also a club with 18 multi-goal wins; only Colorado (22) and Toronto (20) have more.  Although the Pittsburgh Penguins have replaced the New York Islanders as the Caps’ chief competition for another Metropolitan Division title, the Caps’ pre-All-Star Game performance makes it hard for the Penguins, or anyone else, to overtake them.  But they do have issues to be addressed – the power play and goaltending among them (what keep the Captain from rating this a perfect week) – over the break to ensure that the last 33 games – and beyond – are as successful as the first 49 contests.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (8-0-8; plus-5; 12 shots on goal; 30 shot attempts; one game-winning goal; two hat tricks; moved past Teemu Selanne and Mario Lemieux to tie Steve Yzerman for ninth place in career NHL goals (692); moved past Cy Denneny to tie Maurice Richard for eighth place in career NHL hat tricks (26); three multi-point games to tie Peter Stastny for 25th place in career NHL multi-point games (356))
  • Second Star: Ilya Samsonov (2-0-0, 0.86, .969, one shutout, set record for consecutive road victories by a rookie at start of his career (nine)).
  • Third Star: Jakub Vrana (2-1-3, plus-1, game-winning goal, 6 shots on goal, 12 shot attempts)

Captain rates the week…

Three puppers