Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 56: Islanders at Capitals, February 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

A four-game home stand comes to an end for the Washington Capitals on Monday night when they host the New York Islanders.  The Caps find themselves in the unfortunate position of trying to salvage a .500 home stand with a win that would make them 2-2-0.  Meanwhile, the Islanders arrive in Washington in the midst of an almost two month slide that has seen them drop off from once contending for the Metropolitan Division lead to fighting for their playoff lives.

Then and Now…

Saturday will be the 222nd time that the Capitals and Islanders have met in the regular season.  Washington has a 111-91-6 (13 ties) record in the series, 56-40-3 (11 ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 34-19-6 against New York overall, 16-10-3 in Washington.  This is the last of of four meetings between the clubs this season.  Washington won both games in New York, 2-1 on October 4th and 6-4 on January 18th.  The Islanders won the only meeting in Washington to date, 4-3, on New Year’s Eve.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Josh Bailey is in his 12th season with the New York Islanders.  A home grown product, taken by the Isles with the ninth-overall pick of the 2008 Entry Draft, he is second in his draft class in NHL games played (850), trailing only Drew Doughty (905).  But it is the seasons that are noteworthy.  Bailey is in some rarefied air there.  Only four players in Islander history have played in more seasons: Pat Flatley (13), Bob Nystrom (14), Denis Potvin (15), and Bryan Trottier (15).  The odd part of his longevity is how unremarkable it is in terms of standout seasons, but how consistent it has been on a year-to-year basis.  For example, Bailey has never posted a 20-goal season (and almost certainly won’t this season with 11 goals in 53 games), but he has had ten double-digit goal seasons out of 12.  He has never had more than five power play goals in a season, but he has never gone a season without one (that is in jeopardy this season; he has none in 53 games).  Last year was the first, and to date only, season of his career in which he did not post a game-winning goal.

The change in Bailey’s statistical progress has mirrored the recent success of the team generally.  Until the 2016-2017 season, his high season in points was 41 in 2015-2016.  But starting with the 2016-2017 season he recorded consecutive seasons of 56, 71, and 56 points.  He is on a pace to finish this season with his fourth consecutive 50-plus point season (he is on a pace for exactly 50).  He has been scoring at a quicker pace of late, going 3-6-9 over his last 11 games.  In 47 career games against the Caps, Bailey is 5-12-17, minus-16.

When Ryan Pulock assisted on a Matt martin goal in the third period of the Islanders’ 5-3 win over Los Angeles last Thursday, it was his 100th career point.  While it might not sound like a lot, he became the 23rd defenseman in team history to record 100 points with the club and only the ninth to do it in less than first five seasons with the club.  Pulock is already tied for 12th among defensemen in team history in goals (27, with Vladimir Malakhov) and is 24th in team history in assists among defensemen (73).  Making his early career contributions more impressive is that he played in a total of only 16 games over his first two seasons, which he followed up with a pair of 30-plus point seasons.  He is on a pace to record his first 40-point season this year (a 42-point pace through 53 games).  Scoring is not his only contribution.  He is competent in the grittier arts, too, his career totals in blocked shots and credited hits being almost identical in five seasons (344 and 347, respectively). 

Pulock has been a reasonable indicator of success, as one might expect for someone at his position who is not an elite scorer.  The Islanders have points in all six games this season in which he recorded a goal (5-0-1) and are 15-4-4 in the 23 games in which he has a point.  He has been struggling on the road of late, though.  In his last 11 road games, Pulock is 1-1-2, minus-2.  Pulock is 1-4-5, minus-5, in 12 career games against the Capitals.

Hard to say who will get the start in goal for the Islanders in this one.  In 25 road games so far, Semyon Varlamov has had 13 starts, while Thomas Greiss has had the other 12.  They have nearly identical save percentages in those games, Varlamov holding a slim .926 to .923 edge.  The difference is what has happened in front of them.  Varlamov has faced a reasonably comfortable 29.7 shots per 60 minutes on the road so far, but Greiss has had to face 34.0 shots per 60 minutes.  This accounts for Greiss’ 2.61 goals against average compared to the 2.18 GAA Varlamov has recorded in road games.  If you are looking for recent trends, Varlamov has been in a slump of late, going 2-61, 2.96, .904, with one shutout in his last nine appearances.  Greiss is 5-5-2 (one no-decision), 2.98, .910 in his last 13 appearances.  The difference is their respective career record against the Caps, and even there it is not much.  Varlamov is 4-6-1, 2.74, .924 in 11 career games against Washington, while Greiss is 3-3-1, 2.15, .927, with one shutout against the Caps.

1.  On November 21st, the Isles beat Pittsburgh to go 16-3-1 in their first 20 games.  Since then, they are 15-13-5, tied for 19th in standings points earned over that period (35) and 20th in points percentage (.530).

2.  Over that 33-game slide, the Islanders are a bottom-ten team in scoring offense (2.67 goals per game/24th), power play (17.9 percent/22nd), net penalty kill (81.0 percent/22nd), shots on goal per game (29.9/26th), shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 (minus-28/26th), shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (47.4/27th), first period goals scored (26th/tied for 23rd), second period goals scored (29/tied for 23rd), third period goals scored (29/tied for 23rd), winning percentage when scoring first (.600/tied for 22nd), winning percentage when trailing first (.231/tied for 22nd), and winning percentage when leading after the first period (.600/tied for 25th).  Their drop-off has not been a fluke.

3.  Three goals.  Islanders are the only team in the league that has not lost a game, either in regulation or in extra time, when scoring three or more goals on the road (13-0-0).

4.  The flip side of that is that the Islanders are 12-0-2 when allowing two or fewer goals on the road this season, one of ten teams not to lose in regulation when doing so.  Good when scoring, good when not being scored upon.  Got it, but still better than most.

5.  The Islanders have allowed one or more power play goals in 11 road games this season.  Only three teams have done so fewer times: Boston (10), Chicago (10), and Edmonton (nine).

1.  The seven goals the Caps allowed to the Flyers marked the tenth time this season they allowed teams five or more goals in a game. They are 1-9-0 in those games, the only win coming in a Gimmick over Vancouver, 6-5, on October 25th.  The Caps are actually behind last year’s pace in this regard; they allowed five or more goals 21 times last year, going 2-14-7 (both wins came in extra time).

2.  The Caps have allowed 63 goals over their last 18 games.  The 3.50 goals allowed per game is tied for second-worst scoring defense (with Ottawa) over that span.  Only Toronto is worse (3.63).

3.  That weak scoring defense came despite the Caps allowing the second-lowest average of shots per game over that span (27.9, fewer than all teams except the Vegas Golden Knights (27.4)).

4.  Over that 18-game stretch, the Caps had the fifth-best shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 (plus-312) and the fifth-best shot attempts-for percentage (53.9).

5.  Only seven times in those 18 games did the Caps score first, third-fewest over that span.  Nashville had six instances scoring first, Dallas had five.  Only three times did they take a lead into the first intermission (winning all three times).  Only Dallas had fewer leads after 20 minutes (two).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Noah Dobson

There always seems to have been a question about the level of trust head coach Barry Trotz places in rookies.  It was an issue from time to time in Washington, with Andre Burakovsky appearing to be the most frequent example.  This season with the Islanders, Trotz has chosen to dress four rookies, but only defenseman Noah Dobson has appeared in ten or more games.  He appeared in only 11 of the teams’ first 38 games this season, but he has dressed for the Islanders’ last 15 games to bring his season total to 26 games played. 

Dobson was the fifth defenseman taken among the 2018 Entry Draft’s first 12 picks, the Islanders taking him 12th overall after Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo/first overall), Quinn Hughes (Vancouver/seventh), Adam Boqvist (Chicago/eighth), and Evan Bouchard (Edmonton/tenth) were taken.  Dobson has not yet made a splash, though, especially on the road.  In 12 road games so far in his young career, he has only one point, an assist in a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers on January 21st.  His ice time has, as one might expect playing for a head coach with a reputation for leaning heavily on veterans, been parceled out sparingly.  Only nine times has Dobson passed the 15 minute mark in ice time for a game, and the Isles are 4-2-3 in those games.  He went without a point and had an even rating in his only appearance so far against the Caps, skating 8:12 (second lowest ice time of his season) in a 6-4 loss to Washington on Janaury 18th. 

Washington: Jonas Siegenthaler

One might think of Jonas Siegenthaler as the Caps counterpart to Noah Dobson.  Siegenthaler does not have Dobson’s draft pedigree, having been taken in the second round (57th overall) in the 2015 entry draft.  However, only Martin Fehervary among the nine defensemen to dress for the Caps this season is younger.  In fact, of 100 defensemen to dress in at least 50 games this season (Siegenthaler has dressed for 54 games), only 12 are younger.

Siegenthaler has established a benchmark for his further development, posting his first two NHL goals this season (he had none last year as a rookie in 26 games), seven assists, and nine points.  His plus-9 rating is a respectable fourth among the nine defensemen to dress for the Caps this season, as is his fourth-ranked hit total (43).  He tops all Caps defensemen in blocked shots (87) and in shorthanded ice time per game (3:10, tied for 11th in the league among 208 defensemen playing in at least 25 games).

His scoring, not yet a significant part of his game, has been sparse over the last seven weeks.  He does not have a goal since December 20th (18 games) and has only three assists in that span.  On the other hand, in the 18 games over that stretch, the eight goals Siegenthaler has been on ice for at even strength are fewest of any Caps defenseman dressing for more than two games.  And, whether a product of sheltered minutes or attention to defensive responsibilities, Siegenthaler has been a minus-2 or worse in games only twice this season in 54 games, and not worse than minus-2 in either of them.  Siegenthaler is without a point and is minus-2 in five career games against the Islanders.

In the end…

The Caps have been a very ordinary team for going on two months now.  They have fallen into bad habits, have been unable (or unwilling) to string together multiple games, and sometimes even period to period, with good effort.  A letdown from the torrid start to the season (26-6-5 in their first 37 games) was to be expected.  But they are underperforming their talent level, on paper, and they cannot blame the matter on injuries, at least none that get reported.  The record has been especially disappointing against Metropolitan Division teams, against which the Caps have a mediocre 9-9-1 record so far.  Monday night is an opportunity to address both of these issues at the expense of an old friend.

Capitals 4 – Islanders 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 18

Week 18 for the Washington Capitals was not as bad as it could have been, they did win a game.  But losing a pair to divisional rivals and relinquishing the hold they had on the top spot in the league standings made for a week that would have been forgettable but for the Captain closing in on another career milestone.

Record: 1-2-0

The Caps went the first 12 weeks of the season without posting a losing record for a week, but with their 1-2-0 record in Week 18 they have two losing weeks in their last six, matching the number of winning weeks and the number of break-even weeks.  Over those six weeks the Caps have a record of 10-8-0, their .556 winning percentage over that span ranking just 15th in the league.  The best that can be said for that is that they are in good company, resting three percentage points ahead of the St. Louis Blues, last year’s Stanley Cup champions, over the same span (.553/9-7-3). 

What makes this week even worse is losing to a pair of divisional opponents – the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers – bringing their season record against the Metropolitan Division to 9-9-1 and just 4-5-1 on home ice.  And speaking of home ice, the Caps 1-2-0 record at Capital One Arena for the week brought their home record to 16-8-4 overall (10th in the league in points percentage at .643), but having lost three of their last four on home ice.

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.56/3rd)

It was not an impressive week on offense, nor was it a disaster, nine goals in three games on home ice being more or less middle-of-the-road in the NHL.  The distribution was not impressive, either.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with three, all of them coming in a hat trick in the Caps’ 4-2 win over Los Angeles in the middle game of the week to bring him within two goals of 700 for his career.  Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller added a pair apiece, and T.J. Oshie and John Carlson rounded out the goal scoring.  What the Caps did not get was top-six contributions from Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, or Nicklas Backstrom, none of whom had a goal.  Backstrom extended his streak without a goal to five games and has one goal in his last ten contests.  Vrana extended his own streak without a goal to five games, and Wilson has four goals in his last 20 games.

The Caps had 12 players share in the points, Ovechkin, Oshie, and Carlson with three apiece.  Five Caps added a pair apiece – Vrana, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Eller, and Carl Hagelin.  Defenseman Martin Fehervary had an assist in the 7-2 loss to the Flyers to end the week, his first NHL point.  He was one of four defensemen to record points for the week, including Nick Jensen, who has been snakebit most of the year and was a healthy scratch in favor of Fehervary to end the week.  Those not getting a point included Dmitry Orlov, who has two points in his last 11 games and is without a goal in his last 18 games, and Michal Kempny, who is without a point in his last ten games and has not had a goal since October 25th, a streak of 40 games without one and counting.

Defense: 4.33/game (season: 3.00/12th)

Things got better as the week wore on for the Caps in terms of allowing shots on goal, but that is a thin reed to hold onto as a means to save the week.  The allowed 33 to the Penguins, 31 to the Kings, and finally 26 to the Flyers to end the week.  The Flyer game was not even much of a “score effect” result, the Caps allowing nine, nine, and eight shots by period in that game.  It is worth noting, though, that the 33 shots recorded by the Penguins and the 31 by the Kings represented the first time in the new year that the Caps allowed teams more than 30 shots in consecutive games.  In fact, it was the first time since the Caps allowed Columbus and Boston to top 30 shots in consecutive games in early December, the Caps then going 20 straight games without allowing 30 shots in consecutive games and only allowing 30 or more shots four times, including the 33 allowed to Pittsburgh in the first of the consecutive 30-plus shots allowed games this week.

There is one individual stat that one can attribute to defense that merits mentioning.  Tom Wilson was credited with 13 hits in the loss to Pittsburgh to start the week (hits are “defensive,” since the player/team does not have the puck).  That tied a team record for a game since the league began recording it in the 2005-206 season.  Alex Ovechkin was credited with 13 hits in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to the New York Rangers on February 9, 2009.

Goaltending: 4.39 / .856 (season: 2.84 / .904 / 1 shutout)

Week 17 was not a good week for goaltending, Braden Hotlby and Ilya Samsonov combining for a 3.37 goals against average and a .882 save percentage.  You would think that would be as bad as it gets for a team as accomplished as the Caps.  You would be wrong.  The two combined in Week 18 to allow more than a goal-per-game more (4.39 GAA) and dropped 26 points on their save percentage.

Samsonov saw his personal streak of 11 wins come to an end when he allowed four goals on 33 shots in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh to start the week.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he took an Alex Ovechkin shot in practice off the chin of his mask, flipping the mask off his head and sending him off for the remainder of the session.  He missed the next game, the Caps calling up Vitek Vanacek from Hershey to fill in as backup to Braden Holtby against Los Angeles in the middle game of the week.  Samsonov returned to the bench for the last game of the week against the Flyers, getting just under 12 minutes of work in the third period in relief of Braden Holtby.  He stopped the only shot he saw in the 7-2 loss.

As for Holtby, the misfortune continues.  He played well against the Kings, stopping 29 of 31 shots in the 4-2 win, but he was torched by the Flyers for all seven goals on 25 shots to close the week.  It was by no means a goalie meltdown, as it seemed the Flyers had set up a settlement in front of him with few Capitals within a stick length of them, leaving Holtby to fend for himself.  However, at week’s end, Holtby had a 4-8-0 (one no-decision), 4.04, .853 record over his last 13 appearances and has been relieved three times in that stretch.

Power Play: 1-for-8/12.5 percent (season: 20.1 percent/13th)

It seems odd to say that a 12.5 percent power play overstates its effectiveness for the week, but that is what one would have to conclude based on the miserable effort in generating chances in Week 18. Put in the form of a “Jeopardy!” question, “Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, and Tom Wilson.”  What is, “name the three Capitals with power play shots on goal in Week 18?”  That’s right.  Three players, one shot on goal apiece, Oshie getting the only goal.  If it was not the worst week of power play in the last ten years of Caps hockey, it is on a short list.

Silver lining… at least the Caps did not allow a shorthanded goal.

Penalty Killing: 11-for-13/84.6 percent (season: 84.0 percent/3rd)

The penalty killing was another story.  It was actually a bit better than the final 84.6 percent kill rate for the week suggests.  The team put itself in a hole by going shorthanded six times against the Penguins, but the penalty killers kept the slate clean and allowed only seven shots on goal in 12 minutes of shorthanded ice time.  They allowed Los Angeles only one shot in four minutes in killing off both shorthanded situations they faced.  Even against Philadelphia, they did allow a first period power play goal to open the scoring, but the second Flyer power play strike was largely cosmetic, the game already a lost cause at 6-1 when Claude Giroux converted a man advantage for the Flyers mid-way through the third period of a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia.

In all, the Caps allowed only 12 shots on goal in almost 23 minutes of shorthanded ice time.  In that respect it was not a bad week, perhaps the only area in which the Caps fared decently.

Faceoffs: 72-for-184/39.1 percent (season: 48.8 percent/25th)

And then there were faceoffs.  We have long been an advocate of the view that while faceoffs are not particularly influential in terms of wins and losses, they serve as an indicator of attention to detail and level of effort.  The mano-a-mano contest is pretty basic “who wants it more” stuff.  In this regard, the Caps had a ghastly week, perhaps their worst of the season in this category.

The Caps were under 50 percent in all three games and in all three zones for the week.  They got worse as the week wore on, the 46.9 winning percentage against the Penguins being the high point, while the 27.0 percent against the Flyers was not only the worst for the week (4-for-25 in the offensive end/16.0 percent), it was the worst for a single game since the league started capturing faceoff statistics in 1997-1998.  And, if you want to know one thing that might be contributing to weak power play numbers, the Caps drew blanks on power play faceoffs against both Los Angeles (0-for-2) and Philadelphia (0-for-5).  They are just 48.1 percent wins on power plays for the season.

Individually, no Capital finished the week as high as 50 percent, regardless of the number of draws taken.  Lars Eller had a particularly unfortunate game against Philadelphia, going 5-for-25 (20.0 percent).  Only Nicklas Backstrom (52.0 percent in the offensive end) was over 50 percent in either end of the ice for the week.

Goals by Period:

Another area that was not a good one for the Caps in Week 18.  They lost the first periods of games, they lost the second periods of games. If not for Alex Ovechkin posting a hat trick over a span of 4:24 late in the third period against Los Angeles, they would have lost the third period, not to mention all three games for the week, too.  That the Caps scored two-thirds of their goals for the week in the third period is another illustration of just not being prepared to go with a full effort at the start of games.  If there is an area that reflect the need to put the fear of God in this team, here it is.


The Caps continue to outpace last year’s team in most respects, but much of that difference is the product of how insanely well the team was performing over the first 35 games of the season.  This is a team that is 10-8-0 over their last 18 games and have allowed 63 goals (3.50 per game) over that span.  Over the 55 games that serve as the basis for comparison, this team is better.  But “this team,” as it has played over the last month, is not one that inspires a lot of confidence for a deep playoff run, despite its overall record.

In the end…

We are at the two-thirds mark of the regular season.  From here on, it is about tuning for the playoffs on the ice and looking for that last piece or two for the stretch run in the front office.  This team has a lot of work to do on the former, and it has perhaps more work than we thought would be necessary as to the latter.  The Caps at the moment have goaltending issues, look soft on defense, are getting spotty production from top-six forwards too frequently, and look more than a bit lost at the moment.  They has better find their way back to the trail that leads to a deep playoff run soon. 

Three Stars:
  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-0-3, plus-1, one game-winning goal, 11 shots on goal, 21 shot attempts, 27th career hat trick, taking over eighth place on the all-time list)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-2-3, plus-5, three shots on goal, one power play goal)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (1-2-3, plus-1, seven shots on goal, surpassed the 50-assist mark, tying Scott Stevens for franchise lead in career 50-assist seasons (three))

Captain rates the week…

One pupper