The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals end their short two-game road trip with a visit to Minnesota to face the Wild on Sunday evening. The Caps will be looking for a split on the road trip after dropping a 3-0 decision to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, while the Wild will return home after sweeping a two-game road trip and will try to extend their winning streak to four games overall.
Then and Now…
This will be the 25th meeting in the all-time regular season series between the teams, the Caps with a 14-9-1 record overall and 5-6-1 in Minnesota. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 12-5-1 against the Wild overall and 5-3-1 on the road. This will be the first of two games between the teams this season, the rematch to come in Washington on April 2nd.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
Only one player in franchise history has pulled on a Wild sweater more than 1,000 times. If Mikko Koivu does so again on Sunday, it will be his 1,024th career game. Koivu also ranks high on the all-time franchise lists for goals scored (205, second to Marion Gaborik’s 219), assists (503/first), points (708/first), plus-minus (plus-73/first), penalty minutes (592/second), power play goals (60/second), shorthanded goals (10/second), and game-winning goals (33/third).
This season is an important one for Koivu, whose current deal with a $5.5 million cap hit expires at the end of the season. He will turn 37 years of age on March 12th, and with what for him is something of a sub-par year (4-16-20, plus-5, in 50 games), it is a question whether he will return for a 16th season with the Wild, and if he does, if there will be a substantial pay cut to do so. The slippage in performance has come at both ends of the ice, if Selke Trophy consideration is a key. Last season was the first since 2013-2014 that he did not receive any Selke votes as the league’s top defensive forward, and was two seasons removed from his only season as a Selke finalist, in 2016-2017.
Koivu has only two goals in his last 33 games, both of them coming in a 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last Tuesday, although he does have 11 assists over that span. Koivu is 3-11-14, minus-4, in 17 career games against the Caps.
Ryan Suter might get more attention among Minnesota defensemen because of his big contract, but Jared Spurgeon is the active leader among Wild defensemen in games played for the club (648) and second all-time (Nick Schultz played in 743 games). Spurgeon, a wisp of a defenseman by NHL standards (5’9”/167 pounds) is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals by a defenseman (81), is second in assists (196), and is second in points (277).
Spurgeon has had a productive season for the Wild this year, posting 11 goals in 57 games, putting him on a pace to match or pass his career high of 14 goals set last season. Three of those goals came in a 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on February 21st, the second hat trick by a defenseman in Wild history. Caps fans might remember the first one. Ryan Suter did it on January 4, 2014 in 5-3 win over the Caps in Minnesota. Spurgeon is 2-2-4, minus-8, in nine career games against the Caps.
Devan Dubnyk has had a difficult year in goal for the Wild, posting a 3.34 goals against average so far this season, 0.80 goals more than last year (2.54), His .892 save percentage is his worst since 2013-2014, when he had a .891 save percentage in a season split between Edmonton and Nashville. It has paved the way for Alex Stalock to get most of the starts this season (32 to 27 for Dubnyk). Now in his ninth season, and fourth with Minnesota after five years with San Jose, the 32 year old has already set career highs in games played (34), games started (32), wins (18), and shutouts (four). His goals against average (2.60) and save percentage (.910) are good, if unspectacular, although both are his best for a season appearing in five or more games since he was 1.87/.932 in 24 games in his first full season with San Jose, in 2013-2014.
Stalock has been hot over the last six weeks, going 9-2-1, 1.91, .925, with three shutouts in his last 12 appearances and is bringing a personal four-game winning streak into this game. Stalock lost in his only career appearance against the Caps, stopping 40 of 43 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Caps on November 18, 2017.
1. Minnesota is feast or famine on special teams at home, with a 26.2 percent power play (sixth in the league) and a 75.3 percent penalty kill (29th).
2. The Wild are stingy in allowing shots on home ice, giving up 28.3 per game, fourth fewest in the league.
3. Winning faceoffs is not a thing for the Wild at home, their 48.5 percent winning percentage being fifth-lowest in the league.
4. Only two teams have won more times by a single goal on home ice than the Wild (nine) – Columbus and Buffalo have done so 11 times apiece.
5. The Wild lead the league in wins on home ice when leading after one period (12).
1. The Caps remain perfect in games in which they take a lead into the first intermission on the road (9-0-0), one of three teams remaining with perfect records in such situations. Colorado is 9-0-0, and Pittsburgh in 7-0-0.
2. Only Tampa Bay has won more one-goal games on the road (11) than the Caps (10, tied with Calgary and Dallas).
3. The Caps have allowed the fifth-fewest shot attempts at 5-on-5 in road games to date (1,343).
4. Only four teams have been credited with more hits in road games than the Caps (762).
5. Washington leads the league in third period goals scored on the road (46).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Minnesota: Eric Staal
Eric Staal is not the scorer he once was. He did have a 42-goal season in 2017-2018 with the Wild, but that seemed more like a last gasp as a high-volume goal scorer, his only 30-plus goal season since 2010-2011, when he had 33 with Carolina. He remains a reliable 50-point player into his mid-30’s (he is 35 years old), currently within four points of his fourth consecutive 50 point season, and the 76 points he had in 2017-2018 were the most he had since he had 76 points for Carolina in 2010-2011.
The point remains that while Staal is not the elite point producer he once was, he remains a cagey, dangerous offensive player. Think of him, perhaps, as “Joe Thornton-lite” in that regard. Another of Staal’s virtues over the years has been his durability. He has appeared in every one of his team’s games ten times, including this season to date, and his durability has not affected his consistency this season. Staal has points in 11 of his last 18 games, going 3-10-13 overall. That includes points in eight of his last 13 home games, over which he is 2-8-10. In 78 career games against the Caps, Staal is 30-44-74, plus-3.
Washington: Radko Gudas
Radko Gudas has been pretty much as advertised, at least on offense, when his season is looked at as a whole. He is 2-13-15 in 62 games with the Caps this season after finishing 4-16-20 in 77 games with the Flyers last season. Perhaps it is the difference in systems, but his blocked shots are just over half (75) of what he had last season (133), and his hits are down (from 255 to 162). On the other hand, he is on the brink of matching a career high in takeaways (he needs one to match last year’s 23), and his giveaways are down considerably, from 509 last season to 34 this season.
Gudas had been in an offensive slump of late, though, posting a single point (an assist) in his last 18 games. He does not have a point on the road in the 2020 portion of the schedule, his last one coming on an assist in a 6-4 loss in Carolina to the Hurricanes on December 28th. Gudas is 0-4-4, minus-4, in 12 career games against the Wild.
In the end…
The Capitals just cannot seem to get any traction these days. Since they had a four-game winning streak in late January, they are 5-8-1, and only once did they cobble together consecutive wins, that streak coming to an end with the loss in Winnipeg in their last outing. Time to start trying once more to build some momentum.
Capitals 4 – Wild 3