Monday, February 24, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 63/64: Capitals vs. Jets, February 22/24

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals embark on their first and only home-and-home set of games this season when they host the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday and head out to Manitoba on Thursday to wrap up the set.  The Caps are coming off a come-from-behind 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon, breaking a season-high four game losing streak (0-3-1).  Winnipeg will wrap up a four-game road trip in Washington on Tuesday, dropping their last two games on the trip after opening the trip with a win in Ottawa over the Senators.

Then and Now…

Including games played by the Caps against the Atlanta Thrashers before the franchise moved to Winnipeg, these will be the 92nd and 93rd regular season meetings between the clubs.  Washington has a 50-27-0 (five ties) record against the Thrashers/Jets, 30-9-3 (three ties) at home and 20-18-6 (two ties) on the road.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 36-20-9 against the Thrashers/Jets overall, 21-8-3 at home and 15-12-6 on the road.  These will be the only regular season meetings between the clubs this season.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Back on December 10th, beat the Detroit Red Wings in the home half of a home-and-home set, 5-1, and pushed their record to 19-10-2, the sixth-best record in the league at the time.  Since then, the Jets have fallen out of the playoff mix, going 13-17-3, the 26th-ranked record in the league over that span to drop one point out of a wild card spot in the West.

It is not as if the Jets have been all that lacking in offense, although their 3.03 goals per game rank just 18th in the league over that span.  The goal scoring leader for the Jets over those 33 games has been Kyle Connor, whose 19 goals over those 33 games pushed him to 30 for the year, his third straight 30-goal season.  Fun Connor Fact… if he gets three goals over these two games against the Caps, he will hit the 100-goal mark for his career.  His 97 career goals to date already place him fifth in his 2017 draft class, trailing only Mikko Rantanen (99), Sebastian Aho (118), Jack Eichel (136), and Connor McDavid (159).  And, with a big push at the end, he could challenge to jump into the top ten in franchise history in goals scored (Evander Kane currently tenth with 109).

Connor has shown no significant preference for playing at home or on the road, based on his home-road splits to date.  He is 16-15-31, minus-3, at home so far this season, 14-18-32, plus-1, on the road.  His six game-winning goals (tied for the team lead with Mark Scheifele) are evenly split between home and road as well.  Connor is not just counted on for his finishing ability.  He is the only Jet skater to average more than two minutes of power play ice time per game (3:21) and more than a minute of penalty killing ice time (1:08).  He has one of the five shorthanded goals scored by the Jets this season.  Connor goes into the games against the Caps on a run, going 5-6-11, minus-1, over his last nine games overall.  He is 1-2-3, minus-2, in six career games against the Caps.

Mark Scheifele is the points leader for the Jets this season (67) and over their 33-game slide (37).  The 67 points make this five seasons in a row that Scheifele hit the 60-point mark and make him just the sixth player in franchise history to post 400 or more points, his 438 points to date ranking fourth on the Thrashers/Jets all-time list.  So far this season, Scheifele has played against type.  Over his nine-year career, he has been a homebody in terms of his production, posting 100 goals and 245 points in 255 home games played in his career to date, compared to 77 goals and 193 points in 257 career road games.  However, this season, he is 15-23-38 in 31 games on the road and just 11-18-29 in 33 home games.

Scheifele has been a critical ingredient in what success the Jets have had this season.  Winnipeg is 14-7-2 in the 23 games in which he scored a goal, 18-20-3 in the 41 games in which he did not.  His goal scoring of late has dried up, though, with one notable exception.  Over his last 15 games, Scheifele has three goals, all of them in a hat trick performance in a 5-1 win in Ottawa over the Senators on February 20th to start the Jet’s current road trip.  Odd Scheifele fact… he has logged 24 or more minutes in a game nine times this season, but only once on the road, that in the Jet’s season opener in New York against the Rangers on October 3rd in a 6-4 loss.  He has only one goal scored in those nine games playing at least 24 minutes, and the Jets are just 2-4-3 in those games.  Scheifele is 6-3-9, plus-2, in 12 career games against Washington.

With Dustin Byfuglien taking indefinite leave for personal reasons last September, then being suspended from the club after failing to report to training camp, and now reported to be out for the rest of the season, it might be hard for the casual fan to name a Jets defenseman.  If you had “Neal Pionk” as the team leader in goals (six) and points (42) among defensemen, you get a lollipop.  Pionk is in his third season in the NHL and his first in Winnipeg after spending two years with the New York Rangers.  He arrived in Winnipeg from New York in a trade last June with a 2019 first round draft pick for defenseman Jacob Trouba (the Jets selected defenseman Ville Heinola with the pick).

Pionk is only the fourth defenseman in team history to record a 40-point season (Byfuglien did it seven times, Toby Enstrom twice, and Trouba last season).  He is on a pace to finish with 54 points, which would be the second-highest point total by a Jets defenseman in team history (Byfuglien has 56 points in 2013-2014).  Pionk has only one goal in his last 13 games, but he has been spreading the puck around, going 1-8-9, plus-2, in his last nine games with two multi-point games.  Five of his six goals have been posted on the road so far this season, while 24 of his 42 points have been recorded on home ice.  Fun Pionk Fact… he is the only Jets defenseman to dress for all 64 games so far this season.  Pionk is 0-5-5, plus-1, in six career games against the Caps.

1.  If Patrik Laine records one point, Winnipeg would become the first team with three 60-point players this season (Mark Scheifele has 67, and Kyle Connor has 63).  The Jets are currently one of eight teams with two 60-point players.

2.  Despite going 13-17-3 over their last 33 games, the Jets have the best net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals allowed) in the league at 25.5 percent over that period.

3.  Part of Winnipeg’s problem is falling behind early in games.  The have allowed the game’s first goal 19 times in 33 games since December 11th.  Only Ottawa has done so more (21 times).  They are 4-13-2 in those games.

4.  Related… the Jets have a minus-12 first period goal differential over those 33 games.
5.  Even outshooting opponents has not helped the Jets.  Over those 33 games, they are 5-9-0 when outshooting opponents and 6-8-3 when they were out-shot.  The trick might be in splitting the shot total; they are 2-0-0 when shots were even.

1.  The Caps have done a decent job in limiting shots.  The 35 shots that Pittsburgh had on Sunday was the first time the Caps allowed 35 or more shots in a game since Carolina recorded 41 shots in a 4-3 Caps win on January 3rd.  It broke a 19-game streak allowing fewer than 35 shots.

2.  First period goals…the Caps are 1-3-1 in the last five games in which they scored a first period goal.  Now, goals against in the first period?  They Caps are 2-6-1 in the last nine games they allowed at least one first period goal.

3.  Odd statistic… So far this season, the Caps have had positive net penalties (penalties drawn to penalties taken) 22 times, but they are just 11-8-3 in those games.  On the other hand, they are 5-2-0 in games where their net penalties were minus-3 or worse.

4.  Washington has had five or more power plays in a game 17 times this season with a 9-6-2 record.  They are 7-1-1 when getting one or no power play chances.

5.  When going shorthanded five or more times this season, the Caps are 9-4-1; they are 4-2-1 when going shorthanded one or no times.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Connor Hellebuyck

He is second on the all-time franchise list of games played by a goaltender (264).  He is second in wins (143).  He is third in goals against average (2.67).  He is second in save percentage (.916).  He is Connor Hellebuyck.  He has become one of the real workhorses in the league as well.  Two seasons ago, he led the league in minutes played (3,966) on his way to tying Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy in wins (44).  Last season, no goalie faced more shots (2,051), and no goalie stopped more of them (1,872).  This season, he is second in minutes played (2,911) to Montreal’s Carey Price (3,141), has faced the most shots in the league (1,609 through Sunday), and has the most saves (1,477 through Sunday).

He has been very much an up and down goalie since the new calendar year started.  In 19 appearances in 2020, Hellebuyck has had save percentages over .930 eight times and save percentages of .875 or lower six times.  And, while he has been consistent as a home-road goalie this season overall, going 14-11-3/2.68/.917/2 shutouts at home and 12-9-2/2.77/.919/2 shutouts on the road, he has lost four of his last five road appearances (1-4-0, 3.28, .895), while posting a decent home record (4-2-1, 2.60, .924) over his last seven appearances on home ice.  He has thrived on work so far this season, going 8-1-3, 2.08, .949, with one shutout in the 12 games in which he faced more than 35 shots.  Hellebuyck is 3-2-1, 2.12, .928 in six career appearances against the Capitals.

Washington: Michal Kempny

It has not been easy for Michal Kempny coming back from surgery and missing the first two weeks of the regular season.  He did start the year with 11 points in his first 11 games (three goals, eight assists), but then he fell into a prolonged slump, posting only a pair of assists over his next 21 games.  It looked as if he was kickstarting his offensive game back into gear with a three-game points streak in early January, but he has just one point in his last 17 games.  Kempny does not have a goal in his last 47 games, dating back to a two-goal game in a 6-5 Gimmick win in Vancouver over the Canucks on October 25th.  That is no goals on his last 59 shots on goal.  He is one half of an odd pair of snake-bit defensemen for the Caps…

It makes one scratch one’s head.  You would think that as a product of the random element that runs underneath the game, that one or the other of these guys would have scored a goal by accident, a puck off a skate, a misplayed shot that squirts out of a goalie’s glove, sunspots.  It brings to mind the quote from Crash Davis in the film, “Bull Durham”…
“…if you get just one extra flare a week, just one, a gork, a ground ball — a ground ball with eyes! — you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

Kempny and Jensen have played in a lot of NHL arenas over the last four months without a “gork.”  What Kempny does have over his 47 games of goal scoring futility, though, is a dozen assists and a plus-11 rating, a rating topped only by Dmitry Orlov (plus-13) over the period and tied with that of Richard Panik.  It is top-25 among all NHL defensemen over the period, he being the only defenseman in that group not having scored a goal.  Kempny is 1-1-2, plus-1, in seven career games against Winnipeg.

In the end…

These are teams that play one another close.  Five of the last seven meetings ended in one-goal decisions, the Caps winning three of them, and four of those games went to extra time, the teams splitting the four decisions.  They have alternated wins over the last five meetings, each team winning on its own rink.  Expect more of the same in this week’s home-and-home set.  Well, except for the alternating wins part.

Tuesday: Capitals 4 – Jets 2
Thursday: Capitals 3 – Jets 2