Friday, February 14, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 58: Capitals at Coyotes, February 15th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off their thrilling, come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals head to the desert southwest to face the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night.  The Caps avoided their third straight loss with the win over the Avalanche and will be looking to extend their road winning streak to five games, which would equal their season high.  The Coyotes will be trying to snap out of a lengthy slump that has seen them go 3-8-4 over their last 15 games.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Coyotes will meet for the 81st time in their all-time regular season series on Saturday.  Washington is 35-29-4 (12 ties) against Arizona overall, 11-19-2 (seven ties) on the road.  The Caps are 9-7-3 against Arizona overall since 2005-2006, 3-4-2 on the road.  The Caps are 3-3-2 against Arizona over their last eight meetings, including a 4-3 Gimmick loss in Washington on November 11th this season in the teams’ only meeting.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The Arizona Coyotes have not been known in recent years for having high-level offensive talent.  When Nick Schmaltz recorded an assist in the Coyotes’ 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, he became the 15th Coyote skater since 2005-2006 to record 40 or more points in 60 or fewer games for the club.   His 40 points this season represents something of a bounceback season for Schmaltz, who posted 25 points in only 40 games last season, split between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Coyotes, for whom he played only 17 games after he was traded for Dylan Strom and Brendan Perlini in November 2018 (he suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 43 games of the season for Arizona).

In four NHL seasons, and especially since arriving in Arizona, Schmaltz has displayed a certain knack for playmaking (0.43 assists per game for his career, 0.53 assists per game with the Coyotes).  What he has not done, though, is display more assertiveness with his shot.  He has averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time per game in his four NHL seasons but averages just 1.35 shots per game.  Over those four seasons he has had 41 instances of skating at least 15 minutes and recording no shots on goal, tied for 14th-most among NHL forwards in that span.  This season he has no shots on goal in 18 of the 60 games he has played, and the Coyotes are 9-6-3 in those contests.  He comes into this game without a goal in his last seven games and only one in his last 18 contests.  Schmaltz is 1-1-2, minus-4, in six career games against the Caps.

When we said the Coyotes have not been known in recent years for having high-level offensive talent, we might have qualified that by saying “high-level offensive talent displayed in a Coyote uniform.”  Taylor Hall is a high-end offensive talent, and he does lead the Coyotes in points in their recent 15-game slide (13).  However, there is as much attention being paid to his possible value in trade as the trading deadline approaches as his on-ice production.

Trading Hall, who the Coyotes obtained in trade with Blake Speers for Nate Schnarr, Nicholas Merkley, Kevin Bahl, a first-round (top 3 protected) pick in the 2020 Entry Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft, is something Arizona seems not to want to do, but the story does not seem to be going away, either.  From the player’s perspective, the clock seems to be ticking louder on Hall’s career, even though he is still just 28 years old.  He is in his tenth NHL season and third NHL team (originally drafted first overall in 2010 by Edmonton, for whom he played five seasons), but his playoff resume consists of five games played with the Devils in 2018.  When a player has more than 600 regular season games on his resume and only five playoff games, it starts to feel as if time is slipping away.

For his part, Hall has produced in such a way as to make him attractive to suitors since he arrived in Arizona, but not so much as to avoid being thought of with a certain level of disappointment.  He has points in 17 of the 25 games in which he has played for the Coyotes so far, but the Coyotes have not been especially successful in those games (8-6-3).  What is more, more of his presence has been at worst a liability, at best a reflection of the desperation of a team with few big-time offensive talents outside of Hall at the moment.  In 15 games in which he skated more than 18:30, the Coyotes have just two wins (2-10-3).  In 13 career games against the Capitals, Hall is 3-5-8, minus-4.

As if things are not bad enough for the Coyotes lately, they had a setback in goal.  Darcy Kuemper, who has been out for Arizona since December 19th with a lower body injury, was set to return to action this past Monday, but he re-injured himself in the morning skate before a game against Montreal.  Kuemper was having a career season before his injury, posting career bests for goals against average (2.17) and save percentage (.929), and inserting himself into the conversation of possible Vezina Trophy finalists

Kuemper’s absence leaves Antti Raanta as the goalie left with taking the lion’s share of assignments.  Unfortunately for Arizona, his 6-8-2, 2.93, .911 record, with one shutout since Kuemper went down, has not been good enough to keep the Coyotes from sliding through the standings.  If there is a silver lining in Raanta’s cloud, it has been his record on home ice.  Since Kuemper went out of the lineup, Raanta is 4-2-1, 1.79, .943, and one shutout in home games.  But then again, he had a personal five-game points earned streak on home ice stopped when he allowed four goals on 30 shots in a 5-3 loss at home against Carolina on February 6th in his last home appearance.  Raanta is 2-1-0, 2.65, .908 in four career appearances against the Caps.

If not Raanta, then Adin Hill could get the call.  Hill is in his third season with Arizona after being taken in the third round (76th overall) by the Coyotes in the 2015 Entry Draft.  The odd part of his selection was that he was the middle goalie taken among three consecutive draft picks at that spot in the third round.  Daniel Vladar was taken by the Boston Bruins with the pick before Arizona’s, and Sam Montembeault was taken by Florida with the pick immediately after the Coyotes took Hill.

Hill has yet to establish a firm foothold in the NHL, but he has shown steady improvement over his three NHL seasons, his goals against average dropping from 3.49 in four appearances in 2017-2018 to 2.76 in 13 appearances last season to 2.57 in 12 appearances so far this season.  His save percentage follows a similar trend, improving from .891 in his first season to .901 last year, and to .919 so far this season.  Hill has been snakebit, though.  Over his last five appearances he has a 2.53 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, but only a 0-2-2 (one no-decision) record to show for it.  Hill stopped 25 of 28 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Caps on December 6, 2018 in his only career appearance against Washington.

1.  The Coyotes’ 3-8-4 record since January 9th is third-worst in the league (points and points percentage) in that span. 

2.  In that 15-game slide, the Coyotes have the third-worst scoring offense (2.27, higher only than Los Angeles (2.23) and Detroit (1.53)).

3.  In those 15 games, Arizona has won only twice in the six games in which they scored first, the .333 winning percentage tied for last with Los Angeles.

4.  Only four times have the Coyotes taken a lead into the third period in their last 15 games, their two wins are tied for fewest in the league in that span, and their winning percentage (.500) is tied with Detroit for worst in the league.

5.  No team has fewer first period goals scored than the Coyotes since their 15-game slide started on January 9th.  Their seven first period goals are tied with San Jose and Columbus for fewest in the league.  On the other side, only Vegas has allowed more first period goals in that span (18) than Arizona (17, tied with Anaheim).

1.  In 16 games played in the new year, the Caps have seven players with double-digit point totals: John Carlson (19), Alex Ovechkin (18), Jakub Vrana (16), Nicklas Backstrom (15), T.J. Oshie (14), Lars Eller (14), and Tom Wilson (11).

2.  Over those 16 games in 2020 so far, 13 of 20 skaters have goals, led by Ovechkin (16), who has twice as many as Jakub Vrana (eight).

3.  Ovechkin has 13 even strength goals and no even strength assists in 2020 so far.

4.  Oshie has sniped rather well to start the new year, scoring his seven goals on only 23 shots (30.4 shooting percentage), second best in the league among 396 players with at least 20 shots on goal in that span (Zach Sanford: 32.1 percent).

5.  That Ovechkin has scored the first goal three times so far in 2020 to lead the Caps is no surprise.  That Richard Panik is the only other Capital to do it more than once (two times) is a surprise.  Two of his three goals since January 1st are first goals.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Arizona: Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel has been among the most durable players in the NHL over the past decade and among the most consistently productive.  This is the tenth consecutive season of his career in which he appeared in every regular season game.  In nine consecutive seasons before this one (actually, 11 consecutive seasons) he posted 20 or more goals.  The latter streak is in jeopardy.  With 12 goals in 60 games, he is on a pace to finish this season with 16 goals, which would be the fewest he had in a season since posting 11 goals in 70 games as a rookie with Boston in 2006-2007.  He has been consistently inconsistent, failing to post goals in consecutive games this season.  In fact, it is the streaks without one that define much of his season to date – a five-game streak to open the season, a six-game streak to close October, a ten-game streak in November, another five-gamer wrapped around Thanksgiving, a six-game streak to open the 2020 portion of the schedule, a seven-game streak straddling the All-Star Game break.

The odd part about Kessel’s production to date is how his shooting has dried up.  He is averaging a career-low 2.08 shots per game, this from a player who averaged more than three shots per game in nine of 11 seasons preceding this one.  And there is his ice time.  So far this season, Kessel skated 18 or more minutes in 24 games, and Arizona is just 8-14-2 in those games.  On the other hand, the Coyotes have points in each of the six games in which he skated 15 or fewer minutes (5-0-1).  Kessel is 12-22-34, minus-9, in 48 career games against Washington.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

Here is a neighborhood you do not want to be in. Of 329 forwards to post 50 or more shots on goal this season, only ten have shooting percentages worse than that of Carl Hagelin (4.9 percent on 4-for-81 shooting).  But while more offense, or at least a bit more efficiency in generating it would be nice, Hagelin’s value is just about as important – killing penalties.  Only three of 566 forwards to dress this season have averaged more shorthanded ice time than Hagelin’s 2:51 per game (Jay Beagle with 3:11 per game and Travis Zajac with 2:57 per game).  He has arguably been the key element in the league’s fourth-ranked penalty kill.  In the 46 games he has played to date, the Caps are 139-for-164 in killing penalties (85.3 percent), while in the 11 games he missed in November to an upper-body injury, the Caps were just 29-for-37 (78.4 percent).  A more subtle effect of his presence on the penalty kill is that the Caps recorded all five shorthanded goals they have this season with Hagelin in the lineup.  He has just two points among the five goals scored, but his presence also has contributed to lengthening opponents’ power plays to give the Caps better chances to get shorthanded chances.

But even on the offensive side of the puck, Hagelin has been contributing more.  In 29 games since returning from his injury, he is 4-8-12 and is a plus-8, tied for second best over that span with Dmitry Orlov among all skaters and best among forwards for he Caps.  Hagelin has been quite balanced in his home-road splits to date, going 2-6-8, plus-2, with one game-winning goal in 22 home games, and 2-7-9, plus-7, with one game-winning goal in 24 road games.  Hagelin is looking for his first career goal against the Coyotes, going 0-4-4, plus-6 in 13 career games against Arizona.

In the end…

Five weeks ago, when the Coyotes were beating Florida to go 25-16-4 and tied with the four teams for sixth-most standings points in the league, the Coyotes looked like a formidable opponent.  Their record has collapsed since then, but this remains a team that is still the second wild-card team in the West.  What imparts a higher sense of urgency for Arizona is that they have just a one-point lead over the Winnipeg Jets for that last playoff spot (the Jets hold two games in hand through Thursday’s games) and a three-point lead over Nashville (the Preds with four games in hand) and Minnesota (three games in hand).  Further, since the 6-1 win over the Coyotes in the desert in January 2006, the game in which Alex Ovechkin scored “The Goal,” the Caps have one win in regulation in eight visits to Arizona (2-4-2 overall), that coming in their last visit, a 4-2 win in December 2018.  Two in a row – wins overall and wins in Arizona – would be a good way to continue the road trip.

Capitals 4 – Coyotes 2

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 57: Capitals 3 - Avalanche 2

The Washington Capitals opened their three-game road trip with a visit to Pepsi Center in Denver to face the Colorado Avalanche.  The Caps were looking to avoid a third straight loss, while the Avalanche were trying to post a sixth consecutive win.  It looked grim for the Caps early, the Avs going out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.  But the Caps slowly ground the home team down and used a critical penalty kill when two men short for a minute late in the second period as a momentum changer, catching and passing the Avs late to finish with a 3-2 win.

First Period

It did not take the Avs long to post the first goal of the game, and it would be, fittingly enough given the Caps’ recent woes, a former Cap to do the damage.  At the Caps’ blue line, Nathan MacKinnon tried to walk around John Carlson, and Carlson snapped the shaft of his stick trying to defend.  That created a 2-on-1 advantage for the Avs, with Michal Kempny back.  MacKinnon was patient enough to wait out Kempny until the latter went to the ice, and MacKinnon slid the puck across to Andre Burakovsky at the bottom of the right wing circle for a one-timer that beat goalie Braden Holtby on the near side to make it 1-0, Colorado, 2:54 into the game.

The Caps spent the next dozen minutes hanging on against the speed of the Avalanche, who kept the Caps pinned their own end.  Colorado then got the game’s first power play when T.J. Oshie was sent off at the 16:36 mark for high-sticking.  It took the Avalanche less than 30 seconds to convert the man advantage.  Skating down the right side, MacKinnon left the puck for Mikko Rantanen along the right wing wall.  Rantanen cut to the middle and shooting across his body, snapped the puck into the top corner over Holtby’s glove to make it 2-0, 16:05 into the period.

That would be the extent of the scoring, the Caps barely threatening, and Braden Holtby doing a good job keeping the Caps with a pair after the first 20 minutes.

-- Colorado out-shot the Caps, 11-8, in the period and out-attempted them, 21-11.

-- Want to know if the Avs had the puck a lot?  Three Caps had three credited hits apiece – Dmitry Orlov, Radko Gudas, and T.J. Oshie.

-- John Carlson led the Caps with 8:03 in ice time in the period.

Second Period

Washington went shorthanded for a second time when Lars Eller was sent to the penalty box for slashing 6:49 into the period.  The Caps killed that penalty, allowing a single shot on goal.  Their effort was rewarded shortly thereafter when they were awarded their first power play of the evening, Tyson Jost going off for high-sticking at 10:32 of the period.  The Caps converted their chance when Nicklas Backstrom backed across the blue paint to the right of goalie Philipp Grubauer to put himself in position to accept a pass from Jakub Vrana, who was setting up along the right wing wall.  Vrana’s pass was right on the tape, and Backstrom merely had to redirect the puck past the right pad of Grubauer to get the Caps within a goal at the 11:37 mark.

Washington went right back on the power play when Erik Johnson went to the penalty box for a high-sticking penalty.  The Caps were unable to convert, though, putting one shot on goal in the two minutes. 

The march to the penalty boxes continued when the Caps’ Nic Dowd went off for holding at the 15:47 mark.  It became a 5-on-3 advantage for Colorado when Lars Eller chipped the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty at 16:47 of the period.  The Caps killed off the 60 seconds of 3-on-5 penalty killing, and then the remaining time of the 4-on-5 situation.  They were rewarded with a power play of their own when Joonas Donskoi was called for slashing at the 18:57 mark.  The Caps could not convert the first 63 seconds of the man advantage, and the teams went to the dressing room with the Avs clinging to their 2-1 lead.

-- Jakub Vrana led the Caps with five shots on goal through two periods.

-- Nic Dowd was 8-for-9 on faceoffs through 40 minutes.  The rest of the team was 8-for-35 (22.9 percent).

-- The teams had 11 shots apiece in the second period; the Avs had a 17-16 edge in shot attempts.

Third Period

The Caps opened the period on the power play that carried over from the end of the second period but could not get the equalizer.  The Caps tilted the ice in the Avs’ direction over the next ten minutes and eventually got the home team to take another penalty, Burakovsky going off for high-sticking at the 11:13 mark.

The Caps had a chance when Grubauer left a rebound laying in the crease on an Ovechkin shot, but he was able to stymie Vrana’s follow-up attempt from point-blank range.  The Caps put one past Grubauer, though, when Lars Eller circled in the right wing corner and fed the puck back to John Carlson at the point.  Carlson’s drive was re-directed out of mid-air by Wilson, down and through Grubauer at the 12:48 mark.

The Caps took their first lead of the game late in the period.  Lars Eller worked the puck free below the Colorado goal line and fed it out to Nick Jensen at the right point.  Jensen worked the puck back and forth, getting Gabriel Landeskog moving side to side and opening a shooting lane.  Jensen fired, and T.J. Oshie redirected the puck past Grubauer’s right pad to give the Caps a 3-2 lead at the 17:56 mark, a lead the Caps would maintain over the last 2:04 to defeat the Avalanche.

Other Stuff…

-- The Caps came back from a two-goal deficit for the eighth time this season, tied with Dallas for most in the league.

-- Braden Holtby kept the Caps in this one. He allowed two goals on the first nine shots he faced, neither of which could be attributed to a mistake on his part, but then he slammed the door, stopping the last 25 shots he faced, many of them from high-danger areas until the Caps started wearing the Avs down late.  It was bizarre that he did not get a star for the game.

-- The Caps finished the game out-shooting the Avalanche, 38-34 and out-attempting them, 62-54.

-- Jakub Vrana finished with a career high ten shots on goal to lead the team.

-- That 700th goal for Alex Ovechkin will have to wait, but he’s close.  He had seven shots on goal and 16 shot attempts.

-- It was a brutal night in the faceoff circle for the Caps.  Nic Dowd finished 9-for-11, but the rest of the team was 18-for-59 (30.5 percent).

--  The Caps had a total of 11 power play shots on goal from seven different players in 8:40 of power play ice time.

-- The Avs came into the game having scored 80 second period goals, most in the league.  The Caps shut them out, only the sixth team to keep the Avalanche from scoring in the second period on home ice in 27 games in Denver.

-- This was only the second time in their last ten road games that the Caps allowed fewer than three goals.

-- John Carlson had a pair of assists to give him 69 points and bring him to within one point of becoming only the fifth defenseman to post more than one 70-point season since 2005-2006.

In the end…

For 20 minutes it looked as if this game would go the same way the game between these teams went in Washington last October when the Avalanche won, 6-3.  But the Caps found their legs and an attitude in the second period, pushing and keeping the home team to the outside.  The 5-on-3 penalty kill late in the second period was huge, a classic momentum changer.  The Caps, after playing the Avs’ speed game for the first 30 minutes, forced the home team to play a game more to the Caps’ liking in the third period, and that made all the difference in what might have been the Caps’ best effort in the new year to date.