Friday, February 14, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Coyotes, February 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their thrilling, come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals head to the desert southwest to face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.  The Caps avoided their third straight loss with the win over the Avalanche and will be looking to extend their road winning streak to five games, which would equal their season high.  The Coyotes will be trying to snap out of a lengthy slump that has seen them go 3-8-4 over their last 15 games.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Coyotes will meet for the 81st time in their all-time regular season series on Saturday.  Washington is 35-29-4 (12 ties) against Arizona overall, 11-19-2 (seven ties) on the road.  The Caps are 9-7-3 against Arizona overall since 2005-2006, 3-4-2 on the road.  The Caps are 3-3-2 against Arizona over their last eight meetings, including a 4-3 Gimmick loss in Washington on November 11th this season in the teams’ only meeting.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The Arizona Coyotes have not been known in recent years for having high-level offensive talent.  When Nick Schmaltz recorded an assist in the Coyotes’ 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, he became the 15th Coyote skater since 2005-2006 to record 40 or more points in 60 or fewer games for the club.   His 40 points this season represents something of a bounceback season for Schmaltz, who posted 25 points in only 40 games last season, split between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Coyotes, for whom he played only 17 games after he was traded for Dylan Strom and Brendan Perlini in November 2018 (he suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 43 games of the season for Arizona).

In four NHL seasons, and especially since arriving in Arizona, Schmaltz has displayed a certain knack for playmaking (0.43 assists per game for his career, 0.53 assists per game with the Coyotes).  What he has not done, though, is display more assertiveness with his shot.  He has averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time per game in his four NHL seasons but averages just 1.35 shots per game.  Over those four seasons he has had 41 instances of skating at least 15 minutes and recording no shots on goal, tied for 14th-most among NHL forwards in that span.  This season he has no shots on goal in 18 of the 60 games he has played, and the Coyotes are 9-6-3 in those contests.  He comes into this game without a goal in his last seven games and only one in his last 18 contests.  Schmaltz is 1-1-2, minus-4, in six career games against the Caps.

When we said the Coyotes have not been known in recent years for having high-level offensive talent, we might have qualified that by saying “high-level offensive talent displayed in a Coyote uniform.”  Taylor Hall is a high-end offensive talent, and he does lead the Coyotes in points in their recent 15-game slide (13).  However, there is as much attention being paid to his possible value in trade as the trading deadline approaches as his on-ice production.

Trading Hall, who the Coyotes obtained in trade with Blake Speers for Nate Schnarr, Nicholas Merkley, Kevin Bahl, a first-round (top 3 protected) pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft, is something Arizona seems not to want to do, but the story does not seem to be going away, either.  From the player’s perspective, the clock seems to be ticking louder on Hall’s career, even though he is still just 28 years old.  He is in his tenth NHL season and third NHL team (originally drafted first overall in 2010 by Edmonton, for whom he played five seasons), but his playoff resume consists of five games played with the Devils in 2018.  When a player has more than 600 regular season games on his resume and only five playoff games, it starts to feel as if time is slipping away.

For his part, Hall has produced in such a way as to make him attractive to suitors since he arrived in Arizona, but not so much as to avoid being thought of with a certain level of disappointment.  He has points in 17 of the 25 games in which he has played for the Coyotes so far, but the Coyotes have not been especially successful in those games (8-6-3).  What is more, more of his presence has been at worst a liability, at best a reflection of the desperation of a team with few big-time offensive talents outside of Hall at the moment.  In 15 games in which he skated more than 18:30, the Coyotes have just two wins (2-10-3).  In 13 career games against the Capitals, Hall is 3-5-8, minus-4.

As if things are not bad enough for the Coyotes lately, they had a setback in goal.  Darcy Kuemper, who has been out for Arizona since December 19th with a lower body injury, was set to return to action this past Monday, but he re-injured himself in the morning skate before a game against Montreal.  Kuemper was having a career season before his injury, posting career bests for goals against average (2.17) and save percentage (.929), and inserting himself into the conversation of possible Vezina Trophy finalists

Kuemper’s absence leaves Antti Raanta as the goalie left with taking the lion’s share of assignments.  Unfortunately for Arizona, his 6-8-2, 2.93, .911 record, with one shutout since Kuemper went down, has not been good enough to keep the Coyotes from sliding through the standings.  If there is a silver lining in Raanta’s cloud, it has been his record on home ice.  Since Kuemper went out of the lineup, Raanta is 4-2-1, 1.79, .943, and one shutout in home games.  But then again, he had a personal five-game points earned streak on home ice stopped when he allowed four goals on 30 shots in a 5-3 loss at home against Carolina on February 6th in his last home appearance.  Raanta is 2-1-0, 2.65, .908 in four career appearances against the Caps.

If not Raanta, then Adin Hill could get the call.  Hill is in his third season with Arizona after being taken in the third round (76th overall) by the Coyotes in the 2015 Entry Draft.  The odd part of his selection was that he was the middle goalie taken among three consecutive draft picks at that spot in the third round.  Daniel Vladar was taken by the Boston Bruins with the pick before Arizona’s, and Sam Montembeault was taken by Florida with the pick immediately after the Coyotes took Hill.

Hill has yet to establish a firm foothold in the NHL, but he has shown steady improvement over his three NHL seasons, his goals against average dropping from 3.49 in four appearances in 2017-2018 to 2.76 in 13 appearances last season to 2.57 in 12 appearances so far this season.  His save percentage follows a similar trend, improving from .891 in his first season to .901 last year, and to .919 so far this season.  Hill has been snakebit, though.  Over his last five appearances he has a 2.53 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, but only a 0-2-2 (one no-decision) record to show for it.  Hill stopped 25 of 28 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Caps on December 6, 2018 in his only career appearance against Washington.

1.  The Coyotes’ 3-8-4 record since January 9th is third-worst in the league (points and points percentage) in that span. 

2.  In that 15-game slide, the Coyotes have the third-worst scoring offense (2.27, higher only than Los Angeles (2.23) and Detroit (1.53)).

3.  In those 15 games, Arizona has won only twice in the six games in which they scored first, the .333 winning percentage tied for last with Los Angeles.

4.  Only four times have the Coyotes taken a lead into the third period in their last 15 games, their two wins are tied for fewest in the league in that span, and their winning percentage (.500) is tied with Detroit for worst in the league.

5.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than the Coyotes since their 15-game slide started on January 9th.  Their seven first period goals are tied with San Jose and Columbus for fewest in the league.  On the other side, only Vegas has allowed more first period goals in that span (18) than Arizona (17, tied with Anaheim).

1.  In 16 games played in the new year, the Caps have seven players with double-digit point totals: John Carlson (19), Alex Ovechkin (18), Jakub Vrana (16), Nicklas Backstrom (15), T.J. Oshie (14), Lars Eller (14), and Tom Wilson (11).

2.  Over those 16 games in 2020 so far, 13 of 20 skaters have goals, led by Ovechkin (16), who has twice as many as Jakub Vrana (eight).

3.  Ovechkin has 13 even strength goals and no even strength assists in 2020 so far.

4.  Oshie has sniped rather well to start the new year, scoring his seven goals on only 23 shots (30.4 shooting percentage), second best in the league among 396 players with at least 20 shots on goal in that span (Zach Sanford: 32.1 percent).

5.  That Ovechkin has scored the first goal three times so far in 2020 to lead the Caps is no surprise.  That Richard Panik is the only other Capital to do it more than once (two times) is a surprise.  Two of his three goals since January 1st are first goals.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel has been among the most durable players in the NHL over the past decade and among the most consistently productive.  This is the tenth consecutive season of his career in which he appeared in every regular season game.  In nine consecutive seasons before this one (actually, 11 consecutive seasons) he posted 20 or more goals.  The latter streak is in jeopardy.  With 12 goals in 60 games, he is on a pace to finish this season with 16 goals, which would be the fewest he had in a season since posting 11 goals in 70 games as a rookie with Boston in 2006-2007.  He has been consistently inconsistent, failing to post goals in consecutive games this season.  In fact, it is the streaks without one that define much of his season to date – a five-game streak to open the season, a six-game streak to close October, a ten-game streak in November, another five-gamer wrapped around Thanksgiving, a six-game streak to open the 2020 portion of the schedule, a seven-game streak straddling the All-Star Game break.

The odd part about Kessel’s production to date is how his shooting has dried up.  He is averaging a career-low 2.08 shots per game, this from a player who averaged more than three shots per game in nine of 11 seasons preceding this one.  And there is his ice time.  So far this season, Kessel skated 18 or more minutes in 24 games, and Arizona is just 8-14-2 in those games.  On the other hand, the Coyotes have points in each of the six games in which he skated 15 or fewer minutes (5-0-1).  Kessel is 12-22-34, minus-9, in 48 career games against Washington.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

Here is a neighborhood you do not want to be in. Of 329 forwards to post 50 or more shots on goal this season, only ten have shooting percentages worse than that of Carl Hagelin (4.9 percent on 4-for-81 shooting).  But while more offense, or at least a bit more efficiency in generating it would be nice, Hagelin’s value is just about as important – killing penalties.  Only three of 566 forwards to dress this season have averaged more shorthanded ice time than Hagelin’s 2:51 per game (Jay Beagle with 3:11 per game and Travis Zajac with 2:57 per game).  He has arguably been the key element in the league’s fourth-ranked penalty kill.  In the 46 games he has played to date, the Caps are 139-for-164 in killing penalties (85.3 percent), while in the 11 games he missed in November to an upper-body injury, the Caps were just 29-for-37 (78.4 percent).  A more subtle effect of his presence on the penalty kill is that the Caps recorded all five shorthanded goals they have this season with Hagelin in the lineup.  He has just two points among the five goals scored, but his presence also has contributed to lengthening opponents’ power plays to give the Caps better chances to get shorthanded chances.

But even on the offensive side of the puck, Hagelin has been contributing more.  In 29 games since returning from his injury, he is 4-8-12 and is a plus-8, tied for second best over that span with Dmitry Orlov among all skaters and best among forwards for he Caps.  Hagelin has been quite balanced in his home-road splits to date, going 2-6-8, plus-2, with one game-winning goal in 22 home games, and 2-7-9, plus-7, with one game-winning goal in 24 road games.  Hagelin is looking for his first career goal against the Coyotes, going 0-4-4, plus-6 in 13 career games against Arizona.

In the end…

Five weeks ago, when the Coyotes were beating Florida to go 25-16-4 and tied with the four teams for sixth-most standings points in the league, the Coyotes looked like a formidable opponent.  Their record has collapsed since then, but this remains a team that is still the second wild-card team in the West.  What imparts a higher sense of urgency for Arizona is that they have just a one-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for that last playoff spot (the Jets hold two games in hand through Thursday’s games) and a three-point lead over Nashville (the Preds with four games in hand) and Minnesota (three games in hand).  Further, since the 6-1 win over the Coyotes in the desert in January 2006, the game in which Alex Ovechkin scored “The Goal,” the Caps have one win in regulation in eight visits to Arizona (2-4-2 overall), that coming in their last visit, a 4-2 win in December 2018.  Two in a row – wins overall and wins in Arizona – would be a good way to continue the road trip.

Capitals 4 – Coyotes 2

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