Friday, February 21, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 61: Capitals at Devils, February 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The bleeding continues for the Washington Capitals, who head to New Jersey on Saturday afternoon to face the Devils in a 1:00 pm start after losing a third consecutive game on Thursday night, a 4-3 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena.  The Devils will be trying to cobble together wins in consecutive games after edging the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, on Thursday night.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Devils will meet for the 218th time in the all-time regular season series on Saturday afternoon.  Washington has a 113-76-15 (13 ties) record against the Devils, 47-46-7 (seven ties) in New Jersey.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 31-17-11 against New Jersey, 14-10-4 in the Garden State.  This game will complete the four-game season series between the clubs, the Caps having won twice (6-3 in New Jersey on December 20th and 5-2 in Washington on January 16th), while the Devils have one win (5-1 in Washington on January 11th).

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

The sell-off has begun for the New Jersey Devils with Monday’s trading deadline approaching, long time defenseman Andy Greene sent to the New York Islanders and Blake Coleman, who was in his fourth season with New Jersey, sent to Tampa Bay.  It would not be surprising to see the Devils make more moves between now and 3:00 on Monday afternoon, which would mean that the Devils’ last 20 games would be left in the hands of what they hope will be a young core around which they can continue to build.

No one is more important to that young core than the youngest skater on the team, Jack Hughes, the number one overall pick in last summer’s Entry Draft.  Hughes has had a good, if not outstanding rookie season so far.  His seven goals in 52 games ranks tied for 14th in this year’s rookie class.  His 13 assists are good for a tie for 12th in that group, and his 20 points are tied for 11th.  With 0.38 points per game, Hughes ranks 14th among rookies appearing in at least 25 games.  One statistic he might not want to highlight is his minus-22, the price a top rookie pays for playing a big role on a bad club.  That minus-22 is tied for worst in this year’s rookie class with the New York Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko, the second overall pick in last summer’s draft. 

Hughes has dealt with intermittent injuries this season, a lower body injury that led him to miss three games in December and an upper body injury resulting in a five-game absence in January.  In 16 games since returning from the latest injury, his production has waned – 1-3-4, minus-12, in 16 games.  He has been shooting in some bad luck over that stretch, posting just the single goal on 34 shots (2.9 percent shooting).  He goes into Saturday’s game without a point in his last five games.  Hughes will be in search of his first career point against the Caps in Saturday’s game, having gone without one in two games to date.

Then there are the pair of 21-year old “Jespers,” Boqvist and Bratt.  The former played 34 games with the Devils, scoring four goals, before being sent down to Binghamton in the AHL, a move that the team might have made sooner but for his contract situation.  As for the latter, Jesper Bratt has dressed for 51 games this season, tying a career high in his third NHL season after being drafted in the sixth round (162nd overall) in the 2016 Entry Draft.  Fun Bratt Fact… no player taken later than the second round of the 2016 Entry Draft has appeared in more NHL games to date than Bratt (176).  Bratt ranks 11th in games played in his draft class to date (176), seventh in career goals scored (33), and is eighth in points (93).  With 12 goals this season he is within one of the career high of 13 he set as a rookie in 2017-2018.  Not that his goal scoring has mattered a lot; the Devils have been just good enough to lose in such instances, going 4-3-4 in the 11 games in which Bratt has a goal.  It is not a lot better when he posts points generally, the Devils going 9-4-7 in the 20 games in which he recorded points.

Bratt has had a distinct home-road split in terms of production.  In 26 games on home ice he is 10-9-19, plus-6, while on the road he is just 2-4-6, minus-12.  He has been productive of late, botin 4-5-9, plus-2, in 11 games overall.  In eight career games against the Caps, Bratt is without a point and has an even rating.

Miles Wood is a different kind of young player for the Devils.  Now in his fifth season with the club, the 24-year old Wood has compiled more penalty minutes in his first five seasons with the Devils (312) than any player since David Clarkson logged 554 penalty minutes in his first five seasons, from 2006-2007 through 2010-2011.  Wood’s five-year offensive production to date (47-46-93 in 260 games) also resembles Clarkson’s (52-48-100 in 298 games) and can resemble it more closely with 22 games remaining in the Devils’ season.

Wood has become, if not a prolific scorer, then a consistent one.  He has ten goals this season, matching his total from last year and is his third straight season in double digits (he had 13 in 2017-2018).  With 20 points this season, he seems likely to top last year’s 24 points, although reaching his career high of 32 points in 2017-2018 seems a stretch.  And, while his penalty minutes have been significant in the historical context of the franchise, they are down this year from 91 in 63 games last year to 51 minutes in 60 games to date this season, the first time in four full seasons that he has been under a penalty minute per game.  Keeping those penalty minutes to a minimum does not seem to have mattered much in the broader scheme of things, the Devils going 7-9-3 in the 19 games in which he served penalty box time, 16-18-7 in games where he spent no time in the penalty box.  Wood, who is without a goal in his last seven games and without a point in his last four, is 4-1-5, minus-6, in 13 career games against the Caps.

1.  New Jersey is the only team in the league with at least ten wins, at least ten losses in regulation, and at least ten losses in extra time on home ice (11-10-10).

2.  Only Edmonton has allowed more shorthanded goals on home ice (six) than the Devils (five, tied with Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto).

3.  The Devils finish games poorly on home ice.  Their minus-16 goal differential in third periods at home (26 for, 42 against) is second-worst in the league (San Jose: minus-19).

4.  No team has fewer wins when scoring first at home than the Devils (three), and their winning percentage (3-5-8/.188) is worst in the league by almost 250 percentage points (Detroit: 5-6-1/.417).

5.  New Jersey has the worst shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 on home ice in the league (46.3 percent).

1.  Since December 23rd, the Caps are 11-11-1.  Only seven teams have fewer standings points in that span, and the .500 points percentage is tied for 21st in the league with San Jose.

2.  Over that 23-game span, the Caps have the third-worst scoring defense in the league (3.48 goals against per game).

3.  Over that same span of games, the Caps net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals against) is third-worst in the league (10.7 percent).

4. In the “attention to detail” department, the Caps have the second-worst faceoff percentage (46.4 percent) in the league over their 23-game slide, the New York Rangers worse (46.4 percent) without rounding.

5.  Scoring first is a very good indicator of who wins and who loses.  That the Caps are 11-11-1 over their last 23 games despite being tied for last in the league in games in which they scored first (eight, with Dallas), might be encouraging.   

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Wayne Simmonds

By the time you read this, or perhaps by the time these teams take the ice, Wayne Simmonds’ brief stay in New Jersey might be over.  Vancouver is said to be interested in the veteran forward.  Perhaps the Penguins are as well.  Small wonder.  Simmonds is precisely the sort of asset teams looking to the playoffs might be interested in.  He is in his 12th NHL season with more than 900 regular season games (901) on his resume, so he checks the experience box.  He has appeared in 44 postseason games in his career, so he checks that box.  He brings a certain physicality and orneriness (21st among active players in credited hits (1,642), sixth among active players in penalty minutes (1,121)) that teams seem to crave.  He is an unrestricted free agent on a $5 million expiring contract, so the risk is low.

On the other hand, his production is in decline.  After posting 31 goals in 82 games in 2016-2017 with the Philadelphia Flyers, he dropped to 24 goals with the Flyers the following season, fell to 17 goals in a 2018-2019 season split between Philadelphia and Nashville, and again to seven goals in 60 games so far this season (a ten-goal pace).  He has a total of eight goals in his last 87 games played dating back to last February with the Flyers, and he has just three in his most recent 41 games this season with New Jersey.  It is as if his offensive game is drying up in pieces; he posted no shots on goal in five of his last nine games, despite averaging 15:34 in ice time per game.  In 36 career games against the Capitals, Simmonds is 10-11-21, even.

Washington: Ilya Samsonov

With the Capitals playing back-to-back afternoon games this weekend, it would be reasonable to expect that they split the goaltending duties between Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov.  The two goaltenders have had their performance trends reverse of late, Holtby playing better over his last five appearances (125 saves on 136 shots/.919 save percentage) than he did over his previous 11 appearances (229 saves on 272 shots/.842), while Samsonov has stumbled of late, stopping 70 of 82 shots over his last four appearances (.854) after an impressive 11-appearance run (253 saves on 269 shots/.941, with a shutout).

That .854 save percentage over his last four appearances is fourth-worst among the 65 goalies to dress over that span, and his even strength save percentage (.851) is lower than every goalie in the league except the Islanders’ Thomas Greiss (.848).  And, despite winning all four of his decisions in his last five road games (one no-decision), Samsonov carries a .907 save percentage in his last five road appearances going into this game.  Samsonov faced the Devils twice so far in his rookie season, earning wins in both games with a 2.50 goals against average and .918 save percentage.

In the end…

The Capitals are in a bad place right now, and it is tempting to think, while in the middle of the misfortune, that the team is headed for failure.  That might be true, but consider these two teams…

Team 1:
  • Record: 9-9-4
  • 1-goal games: 3-3-4
  • 2-goal games: 3-2
  • 3-goal games: 3-4
  • Scoring offense: 2.91/game
  • Scoring defense: 3.32/game
  • Power play: 27.1%
  • Penalty kill: 80.6%
  • SAT%: 47.1

Team 2:
  • Record: 11-11-1
  • 1-goal games: 4-5-1
  • 2-goal games: 5-3
  • 3-goal games: 3-4
  • Scoring offense: 3.35/game
  • Scoring defense: 3.48/game
  • Power play: 19.1%
  • Penalty kill: 80.8%
  • SAT%: 53.2

Team 1 is the 2017-2018 version of the Caps in Games 46-67 of the regular season, while Team 2 is the team that will take the ice Saturday against the Devils over Games 38-60.  The point is that the current slump might be a reflection of a team with deeper problems than a mere slump, but it also might be a reflection that good teams go through slumps.  Even teams that end up winning championships.  It would be nice if the Caps started playing more like potential champions, starting with this game.

Capitals 4 – Devils 3