Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Canadiens at Capitals, February 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Thursday evening after a three-game road trip to host the Montreal Canadiens.  The Caps will hope home cooking will help them snap a two-game losing streak and a stretch in which they went 3-6-0 to slip into second place in the Metropolitan Division behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Montreal has been worse of late, arriving in Washington with a five-game losing streak (0-4-1) in their baggage.

Then and Now…

This will be the 171st meeting of the Caps and Canadiens in the all-time regular season series.  The Caps are 74-74-5 (17 ties) and 39-34-2 (nine ties) on home ice.  Since 2005-2006, Washington is 31-15-5 against Montreal and 13-10-2 on home ice.  This game will complete the three-game regular season series for the teams this year, each winning on the other’s home ice in the first two games, the Canadiens winning in Washington, 5-2, on November 15th, and the Caps winning in Montreal, 4-2, on January 27th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The history of the Montreal Canadiens is brimming with names any hockey fan recognizes – Maurice “Rocket” Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy LaFleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden.  The Canadiens these days do not have many names that register with fans, especially when you look at the most productive players on the road this season.  Three Canadiens have posted 20 or more points in road games so far, led by Tomas Tatar (12-17-29 in 29 road games). 

Tatar is in his ninth NHL season after being drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (60th overall) in the 2009 Entry Draft.  In his seventh season with the Wings, he was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for Vegas' first-round pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, a second- round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, and a third-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft.  After finishing the 2017-2018 season with the Golden Knights, he was traded to Montreal with Nick Suzuki and the Golden Knights’ second-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for Max Pacioretty.  In his first season with the Canadiens last year, he posted 25 goals and a career high 58 points.  In 62 games to date this season, he has 21 goals, and his 54 points put him on a pace (71 points) to top his career high with room to spare.

Tatar’s production on the road this season is a product of scoring in bursts.  In 29 road games to date he has seven multi-point games, including a four-point game (1-3-4) in Montreal’s 5-2 win over the Caps in November, his first and only career four-point game.  He is 3-6-9, plus-2, in his last seven road games.  Tatar is 7-9-16, plus-9, in 19 career games against the Caps.

Nick Suzuki, who came to Montreal with Tatar in the Max Pacioretty trade with Vegas, is the second of three 20-point road scorers for the Canadiens this season (7-16-23).  That road scoring output is what has helped vault him into a tie for third place in scoring among this year’s rookie class (40 points, tied with Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson).  He is also third in this rookie class in power play goals (six) and fourth in power play points (14).

Suzuki, drafted 13th overall by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, should not be a surprise as a leading point scorer in his rookie class.  It is a quite productive class so far, one that includes Colorado defenseman Cale Makar (second in this rookie class in points with 43), New Jersey’s Nico Hischier, and Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson among those first 13 overall picks in addition to Suzuki.

That Suzuki has been productive on the road has not translated into much success for the Canadiens, though.  Ove his last 14 road games dating back to December 19th, he is 5-12-17, but he is also has a minus-4 rating over those 14 games, and the Canadiens are just 6-8-0 over that span.  Suzuki has a goal and an assist, and has a plus-1 rating in the two games he has played against the Caps so far in his rookie season.

Phillip Danault is the third of the three 20-point skaters on the road for the Canadiens so far this season.  Danault actually has some roundabout history with the Caps.  You might remember that the Capitals traded their 2001 first round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for forward Troy Brouwer.  It was with that pick that the Blackhawks took Danault.  And, there is another connection.  Danault was traded by the Blackhawks to the Canadiens in February 2016 with a 2018 second-round draft pick for Dale Weise and former Capital Tomas Fleischmann.

In his four full seasons in Montreal, including this one, Danault is the second-leading points getter (158 to 172 for Brendan Gallagher) and first on the team in even strength points (142), and his plus-35 rating is second over that period to Paul Byron’s plus-37.  As for his road game record, he is in something of a slump there at the moment.  Danault has gone his last 11 road games without a goal and has six assists over that span, half of them coming in Montreal’s 4-1 win in Philadelphia over the Flyers on January 16th.  He recently had an injury scare, taking a puck to the face on a shot from teammate Tomas Tatar in the second period of a 3-2 loss to Arizona on February 10th, but he did not miss any time, returning to the ice two days later against Boston.  Of his injury it was said, as only hockey can spin as good news, “No fractures or concussion. Only lost teeth and cuts.”  Only.”  This incident came just over two years after he was struck in the head by a shot by Boston’s Zdeno Chara. 

Danault is one of those skaters who have thrived with more ice time, or at least the Canadiens have been successful when he had it.  Montreal is 11-5-4 in the 20 games in which he skated at least 20 minutes, 16-22-4 in the 42 games in which he skated less than 20 minutes.  Danault is 1-8-9, plus-2, in nine career games against Washington.

1.  Montreal has the league’s best power play on the road (27.8 percent).  In 16 road games since December 10th, they are 14-for-41 (34.1 percent).

2.  In that span of 16 road games since December 10th, eight different Canadiens have power play goals, but Tomas Tatar (five) and Nick Suzuki (three) account for eight of them.  Six Canadiens have one apiece.

3.  Montreal is one of four teams in the league with a shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 of plus-400 or more (plus-404).  Los Angeles (plus-0657), Toronto (plus-474), and Carolina (plus-471) are the others.

4.  Montreal has allowed four goals in each of their last four road games.  Their 15 road games having allowed four or more goals are topped only by Detroit (22), Anaheim (17), and Los Angeles (16).

5,  The Canadiens are one of four teams not to have been shutout this season.  Tampa Bay, Toronto, and the New York Rangers are the others.

1.  Washington has the best penalty kill on home ice this season (87.6 percent).  They are 48-for-53 killing penalties in their last 15 home games (90.6 percent).

2.  The flip side of that penalty kill is that over their last 15 home games, the Caps have been shorthanded 3.53 times per game, most in the league, and have spent 6:18 in ice time per game killing penalties, also most in the league.

3.  The Caps have six players with 20 or more points on home ice this season: John Carlson (30), Alex Ovechkin (27), Jakub Vrana (25), Evgeny Kuznetsov (25), T.J. Oshie (23), and Nicklas Backstrom (23).  Next up could be Tom Wilson (18).

4.  The power play has a certain imbalance on home ice.  The Caps have 17 power play goals scored at Capital One Arena, but 11 of them are on the ledger of T.J. Oshie (six) and Alex Ovechkin (five).  Six other Capitals have one apiece.

5.  The Caps have allowed five or more goals in four of their last eight home games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Shea Weber

News of injuries is hard to come by in the NHL, the manner in which teams keep such information close to the vest rivaling the lengths to which security agencies protect “top secret” information, it seems.  But “The Shea Weber Saga” pushes the envelope a bit further.  Weber skated almost 25 minutes in a 5-4 Gimmick win over New Jersey on February 4th, but he suffered what was first described as a “lower body injury” and did not accompany the team for a game in Boston on February 12th.  The nature of the injury became equal parts more mysterious and more serious when it was reported Weber’s injury would keep him out of the lineup for 4-6 weeks, but then that his season was “likely over” and his career in jeopardy over what was by this time identified as an ankle injury.  But then, miracle of miracles, it was then reported that he could return to action as soon as this past Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings.   Weber did precisely that and skated almost 22 minutes in a 4-3 loss to the Wings.

Weber has become injury prone since arriving in Montreal in a blockbuster trade from Nashville for P.K. Subban in June 2016.  After dressing for 78 of 82 regular season games in 2016-2017 with Montreal, he appeared in just 26 games in 2017-2018 (foot injury) and just 58 games last season (knee surgery).  It matters.  Despite being limited to 140 games over the past three seasons, he remains a top-20 defensemen in points per game (0.59) among the 198 defensemen to have dressed for at least 100 games in that span.  Weber is 5-8-13, plus-2, in 19 career games against Washington.

Washington: Nick Jensen

So, with the Caps having obtained defenseman Brenden Dillon from San Jose on Tuesday, who will be the odd man out on the blue line for the Capitals?  It could be Jonas Siegenthaler, who has barely a full season’s worth of regular season experience (84 games) on his resume.  But Siegenthaler averages more shorthanded time on ice per game (3:06) on a club that is fourth in the league in penalty killing.

The odd man out could be a defenseman who has struggled for much of the season – Nick Jensen.  Since he came to the Capitals from Detroit with a fifth-round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft for prospect defenseman Madison Bowey and a second-round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft, he has contributed little in offense (ten points, all of them assists, in 78 games), is a team worst minus-3 among defensemen over that span, is second worst among Caps defensemen in personal on-ice shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (49.5 percent), and has the worst on-ice even strength goal differential among defensemen for the Caps over that span (minus-6).  An example of the frustration.  Since he first took the ice for the Caps on February 24, 2019, he is one of three NHL defensemen of 183 defensemen recording at least 50 shots on goal to fail to light the red light (he is 0-for-81; Matt Irwin is 0-for-54; and Anthony Bitetto is 0-for-52).  Of relevance to this game, Jensen has one point in his last 24 home games dating back to October 18th when this slump started (an assist in a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on February 2nd).  Jensen does not have a point and has a minus-9 rating in 12 career games against Montreal.

In the end…

The Capitals are no longer the hunted.  They lost their top spot in the league standings, they lost their top spot in the conference standings, and now, they trail the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division standings.  This is what happens when a team goes 11-11-0 over a 22-game stretch after holding a five-point lead on the rest of the league after their first 37 games.  And it is not as if playing in front of the home folk have been an elixir.  The Caps are 1-4-0 in their last five home games and have lost ugly, giving up 23 goals, 16 of them in three losses to divisional rivals (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the Islanders).  The Tuesday trade for defenseman Brenden Dillon might be what the Caps need, personnel-wise and “shake things up”-wise, but really, a veteran team like this should not require this sort of a wake up call.

Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2