Friday, July 31, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!! -- Round Robin Game 1: Capitals vs. Lightning

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

August 3rd is the 216th day of 2020, was the day in 1492 that Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain for the New World, is the 99th anniversary of baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banning the eight Chicago “Black Sox” from Major League Baseball, and it is the day this year on which the Washington Capitals resume their chase for the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals and the other 23 teams in the revamped Stanley Cup tournament have been frozen in place on their Stanley Cup course since the NHL announced its “pause” in the season due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus on March 12th.  But Monday, the Caps will take the ice for the first game with meaning in 147 days when they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of three round-robin games to determine seeding for the official “playoffs” to follow.

How we got here…

November 29: Capitals 4 – Lightning 3 (OT)

Tampa Bay scored goals 5:38 apart (Braden Point, Mikhail Sergachev) straddling the first and second periods to take a 2-0 lead in Washington.  After Evgeny Kuznetsov halved the lead on a power play 5:17 into the second period, the Lightning took their second two-goal lead of the game on an Alex Killorn goal with 1:12 left in the frame, the second time in the game the Bolts scored with less than 90 seconds left in a period.  Jakub Vrana scored 3:45 into the third period to pull the Caps within a goal for a second time, and then Alex Ovechkin tied the game on a power play mid-way through the period, beating goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with a one-timer on the short side:

Dmitry Orlov won the game 3:03 into overtime when he looked off Vasilevskiy from the left wing circle faking “pass” and snapped a shot past the goalie’s blocker for the win.

December 14: Capitals 5 – Lightning 2

The second meeting of the teams started innocently enough, Nicklas Backstrom opening the scoring in the seventh minute of the first period and Brayden Point tying the game in the sixth minute of the second period in Tampa.  In the third period, though, the Caps dominated.  Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored less than a minute apart early in the period to put the Caps in front.  Jan Rutta got one of them back mid-way through the period, but T.J. Oshie put to rest any further thoughts of a comeback with a goal 63 seconds after Rutta’s to give the Caps a 4-2 lead.  Tom Wilson closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 38.6 seconds left in the 5-2 Caps win.

December 21: Capitals 3 – Lightning 1

After a scoreless first period, Radko Gudas opened the scoring 4:40 into the second period to give the Caps the lead.  That goal held up until the 10:00 mark of the third period when Nikita Kucherov tied the game for the visitors.  The Caps broke back on top less than four minutes later on a goal by Dmitry Orlov, who one-timed a feed from Jakub Vrana from the top of the left wing circle for what proved to be the game-winning goal.  Nic Dowd provided the final margin with a shorthanded empty-net goal with 2:23 left.

The numbers:

Who’s hot, or at least, who was hot for the Caps?
  • Alex Ovechkin. In his last ten games before the pause, Ovechkin led the Caps in goals (eight) and points (ten), shooting 22.9 percent along the way.
  • Richard Panik. Over his last ten games before the pause, Panik tied for second in points (eight) and was second in plus-minus (plus-6).  One of his two goals over that span was a game-winner, that coming in the Caps’ last win before the pause, a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
  • Tom Wilson.  In his ten games leading up to the pause, Wilson had four goals, one of them a power play goal against the New Jersey Devils and another being a game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Wild in Minnesota.

Who’s cold, or at least, who was cold for the Caps?
  • Brenden Dillon.  He was not expected to be a big offensive contributor when he came to the Caps from San Jose at the trading deadline, but in ten games with the Caps, he is still looking for his first point with his new team.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov.  When he returns to the ice against Tampa Bay, Kuznetsov will be dragging along with him an 11-game streak without a goal on 19 shots.
  • Nicklas Backstrom.  In his last 19 games, Backstrom has two goals on 36 shots.  The good sign for him, given that the Caps will be playing away from Washington, is that his last five goals scored in the regular season were on the road.

Who to watch for the Lightning…
  • Nikita Kucherov.  In 21 games after the All-Star Game break, Kucherov was 11-20-31; three of his 11 goals were game-winners.
  • Steven Stamkos.  Limited to only 12 games after the All-Star Game break (core muscle surgery), Stamkos still scored 11 goals to tie for the team lead.  However, he did suffer a leg injury in the voluntary workout phase leading up to the tournament, so he will bear watching.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy.  Since the All-Star Game break, Vasilevskiy is tied for the league lead in goalie wins (11, with Nashville’s Juuse Saros), but he has done it more as a passenger. His goals against average of 2.59 ranks 18th among 38 goalies with at least 500 minutes over that span, while his save percentage of .917 ranks 16th in that group. His 3.70 career GAA against the Caps is second-worst among all NHL teams he has faced (3.72 vs. Colorado), and his .897 career save percentage against Washington is second-worst among Eastern Conference teams he has faced (.895 vs. Ottawa).

Fun Facts in the Season Series…
  • The Caps scored 12 goals in three games against the Lightning.  That total was shared by 11 players, Dmitry Orlov the only player with two goals.
  • Both of Orlov’s goals were game-winners, his only game-winning goals of the season.
  • The Caps owned the third period against the Lightning, outscoring them in each third period of the three games and 8-2 in the final frame overall.
  • John Carlson did not record a point in three games against the Lightning, one of five teams against whom he did not record a point this season (Buffalo, Columbus, Vancouver, and Winnipeg being the others).
  • Only nine of 21 skaters to dress for the Lightning recorded points against the Caps this season.  
And so the Capitals, 21 weeks to the day since their last game played in anger, will resume their quest to hoist the Stanley Cup.  In the first of what will be the oddest set of tournament games ever played in the NHL…

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3

Monday, July 27, 2020

Washington Capitals: Round Robin by the Numbers

The opening round of the pre-playoff playoffs are about to begin in the NHL, and for the Washington Capitals, that means a round robin mini-tournament in which they will face off against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning of the Atlantic Division, and the Philadelphia Flyers of the Metropolitan Division.  Before the games begin, let us break down the Caps by the numbers against these three opponents.

6 – The Caps won six of the ten games against the three opponents, losing four of them, as follows:
  • Vs. Boston: 2-1-0
  • Vs. Philadelphia: 1-3-0
  • Vs. Tampa Bay: 3-0-0

27 – The Caps scored 27 goals in the ten games against the three opponents (not including Gimmick goals).

33 – The Caps allowed 33 goals in the ten games.

23 – The Caps dressed 23 skaters in the ten games they faced against the three opponents.

12 – Of the 23 skaters to dress against the three opponents, 12 of them appeared in all 10 games:
  • T.J. Oshie
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov
  • Jakub Vrana
  • Tom Wilson
  • Dmitry Orlov
  • John Carlson
  • Lars Eller
  • Garnet Hathaway
  • Radko Gudas
  • Alex Ovechkin
  • Jonas Siegenthaler
  • Richard Panik

4 – The Caps scored first in four of the ten games against these opponents, winning three times (2-0-0 vs. Tampa Bay, 1-1-0 vs. Philadelphia; they did not score first in any of the three games against Boston).

3 – The Caps played three extra time games against these opponents, winning all of them.  They had Gimmick wins against Boston (3-2 on November 16th) and Philadelphia (2-1 on November 13th), and they won in overtime against Tampa Bay (4-3 on November 29th).

3 – The Caps took a lead into the third period three times against these opponents, once against each team.  They won all three games.

3 – The Caps went into the third period trailing the Flyers three times in four games.  They lost all three games.

10 – The Caps scored ten first period goals against the three opponents in ten games.  Half of those first period goals came against the Flyers, against whom the Caps finished 1-3-0.  So much for that.

4 – Perhaps the most ominous number in the group.  The Caps won the first six meetings against these three opponents but lost the last four, three of them to the Flyers and once to the Bruins.

23 – The Caps allowed 23 goals in the second and third periods, combined, over the ten games.  Of that total, 13 were scored by the Flyers.  Clearly, the Caps need to be better finishers against that team.

55.16 – The Caps’ shot attempts-for percentage overall at 5-on-5 over the ten games.

46.0 – the Caps’ faceoff winning percentage in ten games against the three teams.

5 – T.J. Oshie leads the team with five goals in the ten games.

10 – Oshie leads the team with ten points in ten games played, as follows by opponent:
  • Vs. Boston: 3-0-3
  • Vs. Philadelphia: 1-1-2
  • Vs. Tampa Bay: 1-4-5

3 – Oshie has multi-point games against each of the three opponents (2-0-2 vs. Boston on December 11th; 1-1-2 against Philadelphia on February 8th; and twice against Tampa Bay – 0-3-3 on November 29th and 1-1-2 on December 14th).

2 – Dmitry Orlov leads the team with two game-winning goals against this set of opponents, both of them against Tampa Bay (an overtime goal in a 4-3- win on November 29th and a third-period goal in a 3-1 win on December 21st).  They were his only game-winning goals of the season.

5 – Nic Dowd has a team-best plus-five rating in the ten games against these opponents.

1 – Nick Jensen is the only skater still with the team who has played more than one game against the three opponents (nine) without having posted a point.

21.7 – Oshie is the only Capital with a shooting percentage over 20 percent against the three opponents (minimum: five shots) on 5-for-23 shooting.

1 – Travis Boyd scored a goal on his only shot on goal in two games played against the three opponents (November 16th in a 3-2 win over Boston).

9 – Braden Holtby has nine of the ten starts in goal against the three opponents; Ilya Samsonov had one.

.881 – Holtby’s save percentage against the three opponents (.879 vs. Boston; .857 vs. Philadelphia; .930 vs. Tampa Bay).

5 – Holtby allowed three or more goals in five of the nine games in which he played.

And in the “I would not have thought…” department:

I would not have thought Garnet Hathaway would have more goals against these three opponents (three) than Alex Ovechkin (two).

I would not have thought Ovechkin would have no assists in the ten games.

I might have thought Tom Wilson would lead the team in penalty minutes (he does, with 39 in the ten games), but I would not have thought Richard Panik would be second (20).

I would not have thought Ovechkin would be a team-worst minus-9 against the three teams.

If there are any takeaways from all of this, they might include…

- The Caps, even with a 6-4 record against these teams, seem to have overperformed compared to their underlying numbers.  Put another way, they had spiffy shot attempt numbers but otherwise didn’t seem to win the “right” way.
- It would be nice if the Caps demonstrated an ability to beat the Flyers, and that means shutting them down after the first 20 minutes of games.
- Braden Holtby is going to have to pick up his game. Not all games in this tournament will be against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Alex Ovechkin’ numbers could use improvement.  Well, considerable improvement against these teams.

Let the games begin.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Peerless Playback: The All-Alphabet Team, "The Z Team"

From the letter “A,” we now arrive at the letter “Z” in our look back at the individual elements of the All-Alphabet Team we built for the Washington Capitals back in 2014.  On paper (or at least “in pixels”), as all of these teams are, some are good, some are not so good, some are a bit of a surprise.  But now we are at the end of this revision, and here is how All-Team Z looked back in 2014 when we published it:

We are now down to the penultimate look back at the All Alphabet Team that we published originally in 2014.  The All-Team W that we published back then was among the more experienced teams in games played with the Caps and looked like this:  
  • LW: Dainius Zubrus (2001-2007)
  • C: Peter Zezel  (1990-1991)
  • RW: Richard Zednik (1996-2001)
  • D: Rob Zettler (2000-2002)
  • D: Dwayne Zinger (2003)
  • G: Roger Crozier (1977)

The All-Team Z is one that lacks high-end offensive production, but it is efficient (at least among the forwards) in a second-third line sort of way.  It is the experience where there is a lot of variation on this team.  For instance, the wingers – Dainius Zubrus and Richard Zednik – combined for 620 regular season games for the Caps.  They also bear the distinction in being traded for one another, Zednik going to the Montreal Canadiens with Jan Bulis and a first round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft for Zubrus, Trevor Linden, and a second round pick in the 2001 Entry Draft.  Zubrus and Zednik account for almost all of the goal scoring on this team in the regular season (155 of the 163 goals recorded) and all of the postseason goal scoring (nine goals in 34 games between them).

Peter Zezel was efficient, but in a very short stay with the club, going 7-5-12 in 20 games.  The small population of games aside, he would complete a forward line on which each member averaged 20 or more goals per 82 games (Zezel: 29, Zubrus: 21, and Zednik: 20).  But those were only 20 games, almost smack in the middle of a 15-year career in which he played in 873 games over 15 seasons.  Zezel, who passed away in May 2009 of a blood disorder, did not leave a deep footprint with the club.

The defense suffers from having few options from which to pick.  Rob Zettler and Dwayne Zinger were the only two defensemen in team history whose last names start with the letter “Z.”  The remain the only two to do so.  In fact, there are no Capitals since the original All-Team Z was published who have a last name starting with the letter “Z,” meaning that the skaters remain intact.

In goal, none of the 45 goalies who appeared in at least one game for the Caps had a last name starting with the letter “Z,” so to improvise, Roger Crozier was given a sweater for at least having the letter in his last name.  And, with no goalie since having the letter anywhere in either their first or last name, Crozier stays.

And there we have it, the re-worked All Alphabet Team for the Washington Capitals, from A-to-Z.  Perhaps we will be back in a few years to take another look, but for now, let’s get ready for what we hope will be hockey in the here and now.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Peerless Playback: The All-Alphabet Team, "The W Team"

We are now down to the penultimate look back at the All Alphabet Team that we published originally in 2014.  The All-Team W that we published back then was among the more experienced teams in games played with the Caps and looked like this
  • LW: Tony White (1974-1978)
  • C: Ryan Walter (1978-1982)
  • RW: Tommy Williams (1974-1976)
  • D: Brendan Witt (1995-2006)
  • D: Bryan Watson (1976-1979)
  • G: Bernie Wolfe (1975-1979)

All-Team W is among the more experienced of squads in the All-Alphabet collection, at least in the regular season.  The five skaters combined for 1,353 games with the Caps, all of them dressing for at least 100 games with the club.  Brendan Witt leads the group with 626 games.  But it is not a group with much postseason experience.  Witt is the only one of the skaters to have dressed in the postseason, appearing in 31 games over his career with the Caps.

This is also a squad that has specific lanes in which the skaters skate.  Forwards have good offensive numbers, the defense is more “defensive” in their orientation.  Each of Tony White, Ryan Walter, and Tommy Williams averaged 19 or more goals per-82 games (19, 30, and 23, respectively), and Walter and Williams averaged more than 60 points per-82 games (74 and 61, respectively. 

On the back end, Brendan Witt and Bryan Watson were of two completely different eras, but both were more oriented to the defensive side of the puck, Witt going 3-8-11 per-82 games in his Caps career, Watson going 2-14-16 in 155 games with the club. Each provided a physical edge that complemented their defensive games.  Witt is one of two Capitals defensemen to amass more than 1,000 penalty minutes in his career with the club (1,035, trailing only Scott Stevens’ 1,628), and Watson averaged almost two penalty minutes per game in his career with the Caps (294 minutes in 155 games).

It makes the matter of possible replacements to the original team an interesting one.  Making it more interesting is that there are multiple candidates at a single position – right wing.  In the period after the original team was published, three candidates at the position emerged: Joel Ward, Justin Williams, and Tom Wilson. 

In 82 regular season games with the Caps over the period, Ward went 19-15-34, minus-4.  That he is perhaps most remembered for the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 7 of the 2012 playoffs against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins should not enter into the consideration, given the period over which replacements are evaluated, but it is hard to dismiss it.

Justin Williams went 46-54-100, plus-29, in 162 regular season games with the Caps since 2014 and was among the team leaders on the ice during his stay with the club.  What he was unable to do, despite going 6-10-16 in 25 postseason games in Washington, was duplicate his late-series heroics that gave rise to a nickname of “Mr. Game 7.” 

Tom Wilson remains a work in progress, going 75-103-178, plus-29, in 440 games over the period to date.  He has added 11 goals and 25 points in 25 postseason games and has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.  He has become a foundation player at both ends of the ice, manning a top line spot in even strength situations and among the primary penalty killers among the forwards.  It is Wilson’s production, potential, and his ability to flourish in different situations that make him the pick to replace Tommy Williams at right wing on All-Team W.

In goal, Bernie Wolfe toiled for some ghastly teams in his four seasons in Washington, and his record reflects it (20-61-21, 4.18, .977, with one shutout).  Nevertheless, he will remain as the goalie on this squad, what with none of the five goalies dressed for the Caps since 2014 qualifying as a replacement.

All-Team W is a team that can provide some offensive fireworks in one end and some orneriness in the other.  What is left to wonder is whether the higher aggregate talent might have made Bernie Wolfe’s numbers better in goal.