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