The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take on the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center in the first of a three-game road swing on Thursday night. Washington will be trying to avoid a third straight loss for only the second time this season, while the streaking Avalanche look to make it six wins in a row and nine wins in ten games.
Then and Now…
Thursday will mark the 87th meeting in the all-time series between the Capitals and the Avalanche, including games against the Quebec Nordiques before the club moved to Denver in the 1995-1996 season. Washington has a 44-32-1 (nine ties) record against the Avs in the all-time series, 20-18-0 (five ties) on the road. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 12-7-0 against Colorado, 6-3-0 in Denver. The Caps have won nine of the last 11 meetings in this series, one of the losses a 6-3 decision in Washington in the team’s only other meeting this season on October 14th.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
These days, the debate over best player in the league centers, so to speak, on the arguments for and against Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. Among underrated players, the consensus is that Aleksander Barkov holds that title. But if there is an underrated player in the conversation of best player in the league, Nathan MacKinnon might get more than a few votes. The first overall pick of the 2013 Entry Draft took a little while to take his place among the best in the game, failing to match his rookie numbers of 24 goals and 63 points in any of his next three seasons, but over the last three seasons he has made up for lost time. He was one of only four players in the league to finish each of the previous two seasons with 90 or more points (McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, and Blake Wheeler were the others), and with 78 points in 55 games this season (third in the league in points per game), he is on a pace to finish the season with a career-high 116 points. He already has 32 goals, making him one of five players to post 30 or more goals in each of the last three seasons (McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, and David Pastrnak are the others). He and Kucherov are the only players in the league who, over the last three seasons, combined for a total of at least 100 goals, at least 250 points, and a plus-minus of plus-30 or better.
MacKinnon has not gone consecutive games without a point since being blanked in Games 14 and 15 for the Avs in early November. He has gone 40 games since without consecutive games without a point, going 24-36-60 since then, his point total tied with Artemi Panarin and Leon Draisaitl for most in the league in that span. He goes into this contest carrying a five-game points streak and is 8-12-20 in 15 games since the start of the new year, five of those games being multi-point efforts on home ice, including his last three games at Pepsi Center. MacKinnon is 6-9-15, plus-4, in 12 career games against the Caps.
At this point the Calder Trophy race for top rookie in the league appears to be a two-defenseman race – Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks and Cale Makar of the Avalanche. Hughes has more points (44 to 42), while Makar has more goals (12 to 8). Makar has the better plus-minus rating (plus-10 to minus-4), while Hughes has more power play points (21 to 17). Hughes has the only overtime goal scored by a rookie defenseman this season, but Makar leads all rookie defensemen in game-winning goals (four, tied with Dallas’ Denis Gurianov for the overall lead among rookie skaters). And it is not as if Makar’s contributions have been “empty calories.” The Avs are 9-1-0 in the ten games in which he has goals, 24-6-1 in the 31 games in which he has points. On the other hand, he might still be that young defenseman whose ice time needs to be regulated. His high ice time volumes in games might be the product of trying to get him, and his offensive gifts, on the ice in games in which the Avs trail, but the team is still 4-8-3 in the 15 games in which he skated at least 22 minutes.
Makar has been productive of late, having a four-game point streak (1-4-5) snapped in his last game when the Avs shutout Ottawa, 3-0, on Tuesday. Over his last 11 games overall he is 3-7-10, and in his last nine games on home ice he is 3-5-8. In his only career appearance against the Caps, last October, he had an assist and was plus-1.
Philipp Grubauer has had a bit of an uneven season in his second year with Colorado after spending his first six seasons with the Caps. So far this season, he has three winning streaks of at least three games and two losing streaks of at least three games. It is not unlike his running record last season, at least on the winning side, when he posted three streaks of three wins or more. As it is, in just his second season with the club Grubauer is within striking distance of getting into the top-ten in wins in franchise history, his 36 wins to date being six short of Jose Theodore (42) for tenth place on the franchise career win list. Among 19 goalies in franchise history to appear in 50 or more games, he is fifth in goals against average (2.64) and second in save percentage (.916, to Patrick Roy’s .918). With five shutouts in two seasons in Colorado, he needs only two more to tie Craig Anderson for fifth place on the all-time franchise list. If he gets the call against the Caps on Thursday and does not get pulled early, he will become the 13th goalie in franchise history to log at least 4,000 minutes.
Grubauer brings a four-game winning streak into this contest, stopping 113 of 116 shots (.974 save percentage) and shutting out the Ottawa Senators in his last appearance on Tuesday. He has been hot on home ice as well, going 4-0-1 in his last five appearances, stopping 133 of 142 shots (.937) and posting shutouts over San Jose and Ottawa. Grubauer is 1-0-1, 3.01, .902 in two career appearances against the Caps.
1. Only three teams have scored five or more goals on more occasions overall than Colorado (15) – Vancouver (19), Florida (18), and the Caps (18). Oddly enough, they have done it only six times at home, tied for 12th-most frequent in the league.
2. The Avs do not lack for power play chances. The have had 191 man advantages so far this season, second only to Vancouver (205).
3. Colorado applies pressure early. Their 61 first period goals rank second in the league (Edmonton has 62), and their 80 second period goals are most in the league.
4. The Avalanche have scored first 35 times in 55 games. No team has scored first more often (Boston also has done so 35 times). Their 25 wins when scoring first are tied with Tampa Bay for most in the league. However, they are just 10-3-4 when scoring first on home ice, their .588 winning percentage ranking 25th.
5. How to beat the Avalanche? Get them in a close game. They have only one one-goal win this season on home ice, tied for fewest in the league with Arizona. Then again, they have only six one-goal decisions in 26 home games, fewest in the league. Their 1-1-4 record in one-goal decisions on home ice is the second worst, by winning percentage (.167). Only Arizona is worse (1-4-4/.111).
1. No team has spent more time on ice per game shorthanded overall than the Caps (6:01).
2. Washington has nine one-goal wins on the road this season, third-most in the league (Calgary and Tampa Bay have ten apiece). Their .750 winning percentage in one-goal games on the road (9-2-1) ranks fourth.
3. The Caps’ 13 wins when scoring first on the road are second-most in the league (Colorado: 15), and their winning percentage of .929 (13-1-0) is best in the league.
4. The Caps are one of four teams in the league with perfect records when leading after one period on the road (Pittsburgh, Colorado, and the New York Islanders are the others), and the Caps have the most wins in the group (9-0-0).
5. Washington closes road games with a rush. Their 41 third period goals in road games are most in the league, as is their plus-9 third period goal differential on the road.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Andre Burakovsky
He scored a goal on the fourth shift of his first game as a Washington Capital. Yes, it was in a 2-1 Gimmick loss to the Montreal Canadiens in October 2014, but for Andre Burakovsky it was a hopeful signal of good things ahead in his career as a Capital. However, in five seasons with the club he showed intermittent flashes of brilliance to go with stretches of play when he seemed absent on the ice. His last goal as a Capital, the first goal just 2:13 into Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes in last spring’s 4-3 overtime elimination at the hands of the Hurricanes, seemed just a bit too much on point as a symbol of his career in Washington – early promise but more than a bit disappointing in the end. The end of his career in Washington came quietly last June when he was traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a second round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and a third round pick in 2020 Entry Draft.
Sometimes, a change of scenery does a player good, and it has been the case for Burakovsky, who just celebrated his 25th birthday last Sunday. His 17 goals in 52 games this season have already matched his career high, set in 79 games in his sophomore season in Washington in 2015-2016. His 41 points are already a career best, topping the 38 points he had with the Caps in that 2015-2016 season. He has taken on a bigger role in Colorado, averaging a career high 14:47 in ice time per game, and with the additional ice time has come a more assertive (1.79 shots per game, a career high) and more efficient game (18.3 percent shooting, another career high).
What Burakovsky has not done lately, conjuring up memories of his time with the Caps, is score at home. He has two goals on home ice in his last 15 games at Pepsi Center, both in a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on January 18th. The slump is part of a broader home-road split that is contrarian to the usual assumptions. He is 6-12-18, minus-4, at home, but he is 11-12-23-plus-14 in road games this season. He does have a four-game points streak on home ice coming into this game and points in six of his last seven games at Pepsi Center. He had an assist and was plus-1 in the Avs’ 6-3 win in Washington in October, his only career appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Richard Panik
For a while there, it looked as if Richard Panik would shake of his early season doldrums (two goals in his first 25 games) and become a regular third line contributor when he posted three goals in seven games to end the old year and start the new one. However, since he scored the game’s first goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win in Carolina over the Hurricanes on January 3rd, he has only two goals in his last 14 games, both of them coming in a 5-4 loss to Nashville on January 29th.
Panik has had a difficult first year with the Caps after signing as an unrestricted free agent last July. One of the big differences between his performance this season and his performance in recent years is as simple as shooting the puck. In three seasons prior to this one, he averaged 1.89 shots per game in 2016-2017, 1.89 shots per game in 2017-2018, and 1.87 shots per game last season. His shots on goal per game have dropped by more than a third through 46 games this season (1.20 per game). And although his shooting percentage is respectable (12.7 percent), he is on a pace to finish with just 11 goals, tying his career low for goals scored in a season in which he played more than 50 games (11 in 76 games in 2014-2015 with Toronto, his third year in the league).
If there is a ray of hope here, it is that after going his first 11 road games of the season without a point, Panik is 3-2-5 in his last ten road contests. Odd Panik fact…. In 21 road games played so far this season, Panik posted a minus rating in a game only once (minus-1 in a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders on January 18th). Panik is 5-3-8, plus-5, in 14 career games against Colorado.
In the end…
The Caps have been a Jekyll and Hyde sort of club when it comes to defense at home and on the road lately. They allowed four or more goals in four of their last five home games (with a record of 1-4-0) before heading out on this road trip, while they held opponents to fewer than four goals in four of their last five games on the road (with a record of 4-1-0).
Going into Colorado and trying to get out with a win against a team with that much firepower is a challenge, and it will be a bigger one with one of the Caps’ big guns – Evgeny Kuznetsov – injured. But this is a deep team, when they are playing well, and Lars Eller has had success when called upon to move up a line. With these two teams ranked one-two in scoring offense, it still has the makings of a wild one.
Capitals 6 – Avalanche 5