Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 47: Hurricanes at Capitals, January 13th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Didn’t we just do this?  Well, yes.  For the third time since December 28th, the Washington Capitals will skate against the Carolina Hurricanes.  It will be the first time in those three meetings and the first since October 5th that the Caps played host to Carolina, the Caps losing to the ‘Canes, 3-2, in overtime.  Washington will be looking to build off their last meeting, a 4-3 win in Carolina, to earn a season split in what will be the last meeting of the teams this season, unless they should meet for a second consecutive year in the playoffs.

Then and Now…

This will be the 178th meeting of these two teams in the all-time series.  The Caps will be looking for their 100th win over the Hurricanes in both their Hartford Whaler and Carolina Hurricane incarnations, the Caps currently with a 99-55-9 (14 ties) record overall and 53-26-5 (four ties) at home.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 46-27-8 against Carolina, 24-12-5 on home ice.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Carolina has not exactly lit up the scoreboard since the start of the new year.  They have a total of 14 goals in five games, a total shared by 11 players.  Three skaters have two goals so far in 2020.  Teuvo Teravainen is not a surprise as one of them, and Warren Foegele is just a bit more surprising.  The third skater with a pair of goals might not get a lot of attention, though.  Lucas Wallmark has two goals since the calendar turned over, and he already has equaled his career best of ten goals set last season.  He was taken in the same 2014 Entry Draft as Foegle, although he was selected in the fourth round (97th overall), while Foegele was taken by the Hurricanes in the third round (67th overall).  It was part of a very productive 2014 draft for Carolina, who also took defenseman Haydn Fleury, seventh overall, in the first round.  Those three players have dressed for a combined total of 380 games to date, Wallmark leading them with 145 career games played so far.

Wallmark’s 2020 production so far extends a span of games in which he has picked up his goal-scoring pace.  In his first 33 games this season he had just four goals, but he has six in his last 12 games.  He has been very efficient in doing it, too, posting those six goals on just 23 shots, a 26.1 shooting percentage.  His goal-scoring has not be especially influential on results, the Hurricanes just 6-4-0 in the ten games in which he scored a goal.  Odder still is the lack of team success with his increased offensive engagement.  In 18 games in which he recorded two or more shots on goal, Carolina is 7-9-2.  Wallmark is 1-0-1, minus-6, in nine career games against Washington.

Three rookies through Saturday’s games had at least ten goals and at least 25 points.  Raise your hand if you names Martin Necas among them (Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson and Chicago’s Dominik Kubalik are the others).  Necas was taken with the 12th overall pick by the Hurricanes in the 2017 Entry Draft and has slightly outperformed his draft slot to date, ranking eighth in goals scored (11) and ninth in points (27).  This year is more of “the third time is the charm” for Necas, who played in one game for Carolina in 2017-2018 and seven games last season, but still qualifies as a “rookie” under the league’s qualification thresholds for games played and age. 

Necas has been hot of late, going 4-5-9, plus-3, in his last ten games, an output that includes a four-point game (2-2-4) in an 8-6 loss to Toronto on December 23rd.  His has been the value of supplemental scoring for the Hurricanes so far, that two-goal game against the Maple Leafs being the only time Carolina lost so far when Necas scored a goal (8-1-0).  They are 13-7-1 in the 21 games in which he has a point.  In three career games against the Caps, Necas is 1-1-2, even.

He is not likely to get the start on Monday, but a few words about goalie James Reimer.  On Saturday he became the fifth goalie in team history to pitch a shutout when facing 40 or more shots (Cam Ward was the only one of the five to do it more than once – four times).  He stopped all 41 shots he faced in Carolina’s 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings.  He has been effective in an associate role (“backup” does not seem to completely convey his role), especially of late.  In his first seven appearances for the Hurricanes this season he stopped just 182 of 202 shots (a .901 save percentage) while posting a 2-4-0 (one no-decision) record.  In his last 11 appearances, though, he stopped 292 of 315 shots (.927 save percentage) and posted a record of 8-2-0 (one no-decision).  He has been more or less the designated road goalie for the club, 14 of his 18 appearances to date coming in road games.  In 12 career games against Washington, Reimer is 5-4-2 (one no-decision), 2.37, .930, with one shutout.

1.  Carolina has the best net penalty kill (accounting for shorthanded goals scored) on the road this season: 89.4 percent.

2.  Among Eastern Conference teams, only Toronto has scored more first period goals on the road this season (30) than Carolina (23, tied with Boston and Tampa Bay).

3.  The Hurricanes have only one road win this season when trailing after the first period (1-6-0).  They also have only one win when trailing after two periods on the road (1-5-0).

4.  Carolina’s winning percentage when scoring first in road games (.900/9-1-0) is second only to Washington (.917/11-1-0).

5. The Hurricanes have an odd shots fact.  In eight road games in which they allowed fewer than 30 shots on goal, their record is just 2-5-1.

1.  It is difficult to keep the Caps from at least getting shots to the net at home.  In 22 home games they have been held under 30 shots only four times.  The Caps are 3-1-0 in those games.

2.  An indicator this game could be a success for the Caps?  Goals allowed in the first period.  In nine games in which the Caps blanked an opponent on home ice in the first period, they are 6-1-2.

3.  Only four teams have allowed fewer third period goals on home ice than the Caps (18): Pittsburgh (16), Carolina (15), St. Louis (11), and Columbus (11).

4.  The Caps have six goals scored at 6-on-5 on home ice this season but only three goals scored at 5-on-6.

5.  Washington takes a lot of penalties on home ice, their 3.93 penalties taken per 60 minutes ranking fourth in the league.  But they draw a lot, too, the 3.84 penalties drawn per 60 minutes on home ice leaving them with a net of minus-0.09 penalties per 60 minutes at home.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Justin Williams

Well, he’s back.  But will Justin Williams dress for the first time this season when the Hurricanes visit Washington?  Hard to say.  Williams re-signed with the Hurricanes last week, a one-year deal over the rest of the season that carries a base salary of $700,000 aand the potential to earn another $1.3 million in bonuses.  But if it seems Williams has been a Hurricane forever, it just seems that way.  One might think he ranks higher on the franchise all-time lists than he does.  For instance, with 429 games played as a Hurricane, Williams ranks 27th (that’s five fewer than former Caps player and assistant coach Dean Evason, who played in 434 games for Carolina).  His 120 goals rank 14th on the franchise list, while his 305 points rank 16th.  He has 36 career power play goals for the club, which ranks 16th, while his 19 game-winning goals is tied for 12th.

Williams, who is returning to the ice after taking a break to start the season, will be counted on to add some middle-six punch to the forward lines and some veteran influence on a lineup that includes nine skaters who have dressed this season of age 25 or younger.  As it is, Williams will be the oldest member of the team by seven years over Jordan Staal, next in line among active Hurricanes, among skaters.  Williams is 15-25-40, plus-9, in 51 career games against Washington.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

John Carlson started the season on fire in the offensive end for the Caps, and he has barely cooled.  But since Thanksgiving, Dmitry Orlov has had his contributions as well.  Orlov is tied for second in goals among Caps defensemen (two, with Radko Gudas) since Thanksgiving, both of them being game-winners.  His 13 points over that stretch trail only Carlson, and his plus-10 is tops on the team in that span.  He has done it averaging more than 22 minutes per game, second only to Carlson’s 24:16, and no defenseman has logged as many even strength minutes as Orlov in that period (390).

The Caps have been beneficiaries of Orlov’s production this season, going 14-5-0 when he recorded at least one point, and they are 14-5-3 in the 22 games in which he logged 22:30 or more in ice time. Only once in his last 20 games since Thanksgiving has he gone consecutive games without a point, and only three times did he skate less than 20 minutes.  Orlov is 4-7-11, plus-11 (that plus-minus rating tied for best against any single opponent with Ottawa) in 26 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

We are past the Caps being able to intimidate the Hurricanes, who can counter the Caps depth of skill with speed and dedication to heavy forechecking pressure.  The Caps have not been able to find a consistent way to counter this resistance, and they might have to find a way to do just that if the Caps are not only to win this game but find a way past Carolina in the postseason, should they meet.  It means the stars have to step up and not just generate chances, but convert them when they have the opportunity.  There are no mysteries here, but the veteran edge still goes to Washington.

Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 3

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 15

It would not be a stretch to say that Week 15 for the Washington Capitals was their worst week of the season.  No, it was not a losing week, but not for lack of effort.  They rallied from two goals down in the last minute of their first game of the week to tie the San Jose Sharks before winning in overtime, beat up on a weak Ottawa Senators team, and then lost to a pair of division rivals as a result of weak efforts and anemic offense.  The mid-winter grind appears to have struck the Caps.

Record: 2-2-0

It has been said that it is not how you start, but how you finish.  The Caps started the week well enough with a pair of wins, but they did it against teams that finished the week in the bottom third in the league in standings points, San Jose with 46 points (24th) and Ottawa with 39 (29th).  The two losses to end the week, to Philadelphia and New Jersey, extended a poor record of late against Metropolitan Division opponents. 

Those losses brought the Caps’ record to 3-7-0 against division rivals over their last ten contests, 1-3-0 on home ice, the lone win coming in overtime on December 27th against Columbus.  The Caps have not beaten a Metropolitan Division rival on home ice in regulation since they beat the New York Rangers, 5-2, on October 18th.  The Caps closed the week out of the top spot in the league standings for the first time since December 3rd, when they were second to the Boston Bruins by tiebreakers (even in standings points with Boston, but with the Bruins having a better points percentage).  The Caps ended the week with the same number of points (65) and same points percentage (.707) as Boston and St. Louis, but both the Bruins and the Blues have more wins in regulation, the next tiebreaker.

Offense: 3.50/game (season: 3.50/5th)

In some respects, the Caps were the Caps that fans have seen all season on offense, while in other respects there were gaps in Week 15.  There were Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie, two vital elements of the Caps’ attack, posting four and three goals, respectively for the week, accounting for half of the Caps’ total.  Lars Eller, who has been quite productive of late in a variety of ways, scoring a pair of goals, and Alex Ovechkin getting a pair of goals of his own to tie Teemu Selanne for 11th place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list (684 goals apiece).  Nicklas Backstrom, Radko Gudas, and Nic Dowd rounded out the goal scorers. 

Missing, however, were Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov among the forwards.  Wilson has been in a dry spell of late, his current streak of games without a goal up to five.   He has one goal in his last 11 games and two in his last 15.  Kuznetsov has been more streaky.  He is without a goal in four games after posting four in three games.  Before that he had one goal in 12 games.

There was balance in the points, though.  Of the 18 skaters to dress in Week 15, 16 of them had points, and the distribution was what was noticeable.  Vrana led the team with five points, but three players had four (Oshie, Backstrom, and John Carlson), while another four players had three points (Eller, Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Michal Kempny).  Garnet Hathaway and Nick Jensen were the only players to be blanked on the score sheet for the week.  For Jensen, the drought is severe.  He is now up to 38 consecutive games without a point.  Hathaway’s dry spell is not as severe, but he is up to six games without a point.

Defense: 3.25/game (season: 2.96/12th)

The Caps held all four opponents in Week 15 to fewer than 30 shots, extending an impressive amount of stinginess when it comes to allowing shots.  Washington has allowed fewer than 30 shots in 12 of their last 13 games through Week 15, the only club to top that threshold being the Carolina Hurricanes, who logged 41 shots on goal in a 4-3 loss to the Caps on January 3rd. Since Thanksgiving, no team in the league has been stingier than the Caps in allowing shots, their 27.4 shots allowed per game being fewest in the league over that span.

Washington was not quite as impressive on the defensive side of 5-on-5 shot attempts, but were decent nonetheless.  They allowed 176 shot attempts at fives, fifth fewest among the ten teams to play in four games this week.  It is part of an extended good run in this area for the Caps, whose 815 shot attempts at fives overall are the third-fewest in the league since Thanksgiving.  It has helped contribute to a plus-110 shot attempt differential over that period, the sixth-best differential in the league.

Goaltending: 2.75 / .893 (season: 2.76 / .906)

There is a fair amount to unpack in this category in Week 15.  First, there is the continued fine play on the part of Ilya Samsonov, who stopped 26 of 27 shots in his lone appearance for the week, beating Ottawa, 6-1.  It brought his record over his last eight appearances to 7-0-0 (one no-decision), 1.83, .932.  He finished the week second in the league among rookie goaltenders in wins with 12 (New Jersey’s MacKenzie Blackwood has (14), second in goals against average with 2.24 (Florida’s Chris Driedger has a 2.16 GAA), and fifth in save percentage (.921).

Then there was Braden Holtby, who had a real “donut” of a week.  He stopped 31 of 34 first period shots in three games for a respectable .912 save percentage.  He was perfect in his three third periods, stopping all 17 shots he faced.  But oh, those second periods.  He allowed at least one goal in each of the three second periods he played and stopped only 16 of 23 shots (.696 save percentage).  Not every goal is the goalie’s fault, but, like pitchers in baseball with earned run average, it is his goals against average and save percentage that gets the record, and he is the one who records the wins and the losses.  Whether it is his play, the play of the team in front of him, or a combination of the two, Holtby is in a dark place at the moment.  In his last ten appearances, he is 3-7-0, 3.59, .870, and he has allowed a shorthanded goal in two straight games and three of his last five contests.  Since Thanksgiving, 40 goalies have logged at least 500 minutes.  Of that group, Holtby ranks 34th in goals against average (3.27) and dead last in save percentage (.882).

Power Play: 1-for-12/8.3 percent (season: 21.0 percent/12th)

Week 15 was another in a continuing series of struggling weeks for the Caps, ending the week 8-for-56 in their last six weeks covering 18 games.  Worse, in Week 15 the Caps had a net power play of -8.3 percent, their one power play goal offset by two shorthanded goals allowed.  They were the only team in the league to allow two shorthanded goals this week and the only team to finish in negative territory in net power play.  The Caps changed things up a bit by spreading the power play time out as the week wore on.  When the week ended, seven forwards averaged more than two minutes per game in power play ice time, Jakub Vrana (2:19 per game) and Lars Eller (2:16) being somewhat new to this level of participation.

It was a lackluster power play at the next level as well.  The Caps managed only 14 shots on goal in 21:28 of power play ice time, Alex Ovechkin accounting for five of them, Jakub Vrana for another three (and the only goal).  Put it all together, and that 8-for-56 power play (14.3 percent) is the second-worst power play in the league (Columbus: 12.5 percent).

Penalty Killing: 6-for-8/75.0 percent (season: 83.8 percent/4th)

The Caps matched their penalty killing performance in Week 14 with a 6-for-8 week.  In the glass-half-full category, the Caps had only those eight shorthanded situations to face in four games.  On the other hand, the four teams they faced in Week 15 were among the worst power play teams in the league, ranking 19th (Philadelphia), 25th (San Jose), 30th (New Jersey), and 31st (Ottawa) at week’s end.

But back to the first hand, the good part.  The Caps did allow San Jose two power play goals on their first two chances in the first game of the week, but here is the really good part.  The Caps not only shutout opponents on the power play the rest of the week (6-for-6), but they shut them out on shots.  San Jose did not record one on either of their last two power play chances in the opening game of the week, and the Caps ran the table in the other three games, denying any of the three opponents so much as a single shot on goal in eight shorthanded minutes of play.  If there was one thing in this week to build on, the penalty kill to finish the week might have been it.

Faceoffs: 99-for-228/43.4 percent (season: 48.9 percent/22nd)

The Caps just are not a very good faceoff team.  They are inconsistent at best.  In four games this week they were over 50 percent only against San Jose (31-for-58/53.4 percent) and under 45 percent in the other three games.  They lost all three zones for the week, topping 45 percent only in the offensive end (40-for-88/45.5 percent).  Since Thanksgiving, the Caps have the fifth-worst faceoff performance in the league (47.2 percent) and second-worst in the new year (42.3 percent).  Faceoff woes might be contributing to poor power play performance.  Their 34.8 percent wins on power plays in the first five games of the new year is worst in the league, and that’s too much time chasing down pucks when they could be setting up their attack.

Individually, Nicklas Backstrom (32-for-60/53.3 percent) and Lars Eller (22-for-41/53.7 percent) were the only Caps taking at least ten draws to finish over 50 percent for the week.  No Capital, regardless of the number of draws taken, finished at 50 percent or better in the defensive zone.

Goals by Period:

Week 15 was a week in which the Caps suffered from poor starts, posting a negative goal differential in both the first and second periods of games.  Their third periods look better for the furious last-minute comeback against San Jose in which they scored a pair of goals, a comeback that qualifies as historic

The two first period goals the Caps scored for the week are the first two goals they have recorded in the opening periods of the new year to date, tied with Columbus for fewest in the league.  And even that paltry production has not helped.  The Caps have yet to take a lead into the first intermission through five games in January.  The Caps have not held a lead at the first intermission since they took a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes in their 6-3 win over New Jersey on December 20th.  They have not taken a lead into the first intermission on home ice since Thanksgiving, a streak that is now at ten home games.


The Caps continue to be better in most respects than last year’s team at a similar point in the schedule, but the differences are narrowing.  The best thing that might be said is that this club is not merely better than last year’s in terms of wins, but it is only the third team in franchise history to post 30 or more wins in their first 46 games.  The 206-2017 club had 31 wins in 46 games, while the 2015-2016 team had 35 wins it its first 46 games.

The flip side of that is that even with the recent mediocre record, this year’s Caps team has the third-fewest losses in regulation through 46 games (11) in team history, the 2016-2017 team having nine and the 2015-2016 team having eight.  The differential statistics – goals for and against, shots for and against, and 5-on-5 shot attempts for and against – continue to favor this year’s team significantly.  One would think, or at least hope, that a club as skilled as this will shake off the doldrums if the underlying numbers such as these continue to point in a positive direction.

In the end…

Overall, it was quite a disappointing week.  The Caps were fortunate, if not outright lucky, to get out of it with a .500 record.  Coming back from two goals down in the last minute of a game is not a formula one can count on, and while the win over Ottawa and the loss to Philadelphia (a superb home team) could be in the category of “expected,” the loss to the Devils to end the week was arguably the Caps worst game – effort-wise and performance-wise – of the season.  The Caps have much work to do…get the power play untracked, have better starts to games, improve their performance on home ice, get Braden Holtby back on his game.  With three division rivals on the schedule in Week 16, their last action before their bye/All-Star Game break, sooner rather than later for those improvements is the prescription.

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Jakub Vrana (4-1-5, plus-1, 14 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, first power play goal of the season, reached 20 goals for second consecutive season)
  • Second Star: Radko Gudas (1-1-2, plus-3 (tied for team lead), one game-winning goal, 12 shots on goal (led all defensemen), 12 hits (led all defensemen))
  • Third Star: Ilya Samsonov (1-0-0, 1.00, .963)

Captain rates the week…

One pupper