Friday, February 07, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 55: Flyers at Capitals, February 8th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals wrap up the week hosting the third game of their four-game home stand when the Philadelphia Flyers come down I-95 for a Saturday matchup at Capital One Arena.  Washington will be trying to break the alternating wins and losses over their last four games with a second consecutive win.  The Flyers will arrive in DC carrying their own pattern of wins and losses with three cycles of two wins and a loss over their last nine games.

Then and Now…

Saturday will be the 222nd time that the Capitals and Flyers have met in the regular season.  Washington has an 87-104-11 (19 ties) record in the series, 49-41-4 (13 ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-17-11 against Philadelphia overall, 16-7-4 in Washington.  This is the third of four meetings between the clubs this season.  Washington won the first meeting, 2-1 in a Gimmick, on November 13th.  They dropped a 3-2 decision to the Flyers on January 8th.  Both games were played in Philadelphia.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Plus-minus has fallen into disfavor as a statistic with descriptive benefits.  Good thing for some players, especially the new guys.  Take Kevin Hayes.  He was traded to the Flyers by the Winnipeg Jets last June for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, and the Flyers then turned around and signed him to a seven-year/$50 million contract.  At the time, General Manager Chuck Fletcher said, “We are very happy to sign Kevin to a long term contract.  He plays a smart, two-way game and is just entering the prime of his career. Kevin will add size and skill to our line-up." 
That two-way game has not been reflected in the raw plus-minus numbers, where Hayes is a team-worst minus-11 among 29 skaters overall and a second-worst minus-14 in 27 road games this season.  What makes his numbers in this category odd are that he is tied for the team lead in goals overall (17, with Travis Konecny) and is fifth on the team in overall points (32) and even strength points (21, tied with Claude Giroux).  But Hayes is dead last on the team in even strength net goals scored, for and against (minus-12).  He has come on of late though, going 3-2-5, plus-4, in his last five games.  Hayes is 6-7-13, minus-1, in 22 career games against the Caps.

The other new guy who is having a rough time with his plus-minus numbers is one Caps fans will recognize, although his plus-minus struggles are quite different from Hayes’.  Matt Niskanen left the Caps Philadelphia in a trade last June for defenseman Radko Gudas.  In 53 games overall with his new club, Niskanen is a plus-1, but his home-road split jumps off the page.  He is plus-17 in 27 games on home ice so far, but he is minus-16 in 26 road games to date, worst on the team.  Those minus numbers have come in bunches, too.  Seven times in 26 road games he has been a minus-2 or worse, and only five times in those 26 road games was he a plus player.  However, like Hayes, he has had a better time of it on the road lately, going 1-3-4, plus-1, in his last three road contests.

Something to watch for Niskanen is his ice time.  Last year with the Caps, he skated 23 minutes or more 16 times, and the Caps were 10-3-3 in those games.  He has already skated 23 minutes or more 16 times with the Flyers this season, and the team is 11-1-4 in those games, 4-1-3 on the road.  If he gets a heavy ice time load, It might not be the best news for the Caps.  Niskanen is 1-5-6, plus-10, in 14 career games against the Caps.

Young goalies, even those with promise, require a certain amount of patience.  Their performance does not often improve in a straight line.  Take Carter Hart.  He had a very good rookie season last year, winning 16 times in 31 appearances (second among rookies in wins), posting a goals against average of 2.83 (sixth among rookie goalies with at least 100 minutes), and recording a save percentage of .917 (fourth in that group of rookie goalies with at least 100 minutes).  What hasn’t happened is his taking much of a step forward.  He has 15 wins in 32 appearances, a goals against of 2.61, and a save percentage of .905.  And, his season has split into two pieces.  In his first 19 games, Hart was 10-5-3, 2.39, .909, with one shutout.  In his last 13 appearances, he is 5-6-0, 2.95, .900.  Part of that is an increased shots load – 26.3 shots/60 minutes in the first block of games and 29.4/60 minutes in the second block of games – but he seems to have been a bit stuck in place, too.

The splits get worse when comparing Hart’s performance at home and on the road.  In the friendly spaces of Wells Fargo Center, Hart is 13-2-2, 1.69, .940.  On the road, though… 2-9-1, 4.01, .850.  The next big step in his development might be to be a guy driving the bus on the road, not just being along for the ride.  Hart is listed as day-to-day with a strained abdominal injury and is reported to be closer to returning to game action.  Hart is 1-1-1, 2.29, .926 in three career appearances against the Caps.

1.  The Flyers have the third-worst scoring defense in the league on the road (3.67 goals allowed per game).  Only Detroit (4.19) and Minnesota (3.73) are worse.

2.  The odd flip side of that is that only Pittsburgh has allowed fewer shots on goal per game in road games (28.5) than Philadelphia (28.9).

3.  The Flyers are tied with Vancouver and Columbus for the best net-penalty differential (plus-5) in road games – 93 penalties drawn and 88 penalties taken.

4.  Philly lets teams get off to good starts too often in road games, the 40 goals allowed in the first period on the road being most in the league. 

5.  Whoever is leading after two periods when the Flyers are on the road is an even better predictor of results than this statistic generally yields.  Seven times the Flyers have led after two periods on the road.  They won all of them.  Sixteen times they have trailed after two periods on the road.  They lost all of them (0-13-3).

1.  The Caps, who have seemed to struggle recently, still have the fourth-best record in the league (based on points percentage) since January 1st (.692/9-4-0).  That is still a 113-point pace over 82 games.

2.  Washington has the third worst net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals against) since January 1st.  Their 6.3 percent is better than Tampa Bay (5.1percent) and Detroit (minus-2.3 percent).

3.  Only three teams since January 1st have a worse faceoff percentage than the Caps (47.5 percent): San Jose (46.5), Columbus (46.3), and Minnesota (45.6).

4.  In 13 games played in the 2020 portion of the schedule so far, the Caps lead the league with 22 third period goals.  Their plus-10 third period goal differential is exceeded only by Tampa Bay (plus-12).

5.  In 13 games played by the Caps since January 1st, 100 penalties have been called – 50 against the Caps and 50 against opponents.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: James van Riemsdyk

When James van Riemsdyk was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Flyers in July 2018 to a five-year/$35 million contract, he was coming off a career year in goal scoring with the Toronto Maple Leafs – 36 goals in 81 games.  Of that total, 11 goals came on power plays, a career high.  Part of the appeal of his signing for a second tour in Philadelphia, where he played his first three NHL seasons, was that his power play contributions would complement those of Wayne Simmonds, a winger of similar style and production. 

When Simmonds was traded late last season to Nashville, one might have envisioned a bigger role for van Rimesdyk on the power play. However, after his power play goal total dropped to eight in 66 games with the Flyers last season, he has three in 54 games so far this season, none of them on the road.  What is worse for the Flyers is that his goal scoring is down overall recently.  He has a total of two goals on 40 shots over his last 18 games, both of them on home ice.  His home-road splits this season have leaned heavily to the home side.  In 27 home games, van Riemsdyk is 9-10-19, plus 4, and is shooting 12.9 percent.  On the other hand, in 27 road games he is 5-6-11, minus-6, and he is shooting just 8.2 percent.  He has gone nine straight games on the road without a goal.  Four of his five road goals came in a three-game span over a week in mid-December, the two he had in Ottawa on Deember 21st being his last goals on the road to date.  In 32 career games against the Caps, van Riemsdyk is 8-11-19, minus-11.

Washington: Jakub Vrana

The next step in the development of Jakub Vrana appears to be granting him a larger power play role.  In his first 46 games he logged more than four minutes on power plays only once, when he logged 4:04 in power play ice time in a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on December 3rd.  However, he has logged four or more minutes four times in his last eight games, including a career-high 5:08 with the man advantage in a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on January31st.  The results, while not eye-popping, do have some promise.  He has only two power play points in those most recent eight games, but both were primary assists.  He has only two power play shots on goal in those eight games, but it might be reasonable to believe that integrating his skills into the power play scheme will take some time, especially how the Caps might employ his one-timer from the right wing circle as a counterpoint to Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left wing side, thereby relieving some pressure on Ovechkin.

Overall, Vrana is on the brink of setting career highs in a number of statistical categories.  His 23 goals is only one short of the 24 he had last season.  His 22 assists are only one short of the 23 he had last season.  He is just 13 shots on goal short of the career high of 161 he had last year.  And, Vrana already has a career high eight power play assists (three last season), and this is his most efficient season shooting the puck to date (15.5 shooting percentage).  He has been especially effective (eight goals in 13 games) and efficient (24.2 percent shooting) since the first of the year.  And he has been consistent with points in 11 of those 13 games.  Vrana is 5-3-8, plus-4, in 11 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

The Flyers are a pesky bunch that seem to be built and building for the long haul.  They have eight skaters who have dressed for 20 or more games and goalie Carter Hart who are under 25 (Robert Hagg will turn 25 on the day of the game), a group that includes Oskar Lindblom, who everyone hopes will be back on the ice as soon as possible after a battle with Ewing sarcoma.  The pace of development suggests that this almost certainly will not be the Flyers’ year.  They are bouncing along on the dividing line of playoff eligibility (currently ninth, a tie-breaker short of Carolina).  But they are one of those teams that can win on any given night, and this could be a preview of an opening round playoff matchup.  Meanwhile, the Caps are settling into a mid-winter trend of quiet accomplishment (the Ovechkin chase for 700 goals notwithstanding) but would like to improve on their 3-3-0 record against Metropolitan Division teams over their last half dozen division games (including a loss to the Flyers).  As if this rivalry needs more gasoline thrown on the fire.

Capitals 4 – Flyers 3