Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 66: Flyers at Capitals, March 4th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals start one of their more important weeks of the season on Wednesday night when they face the onrushing Philadelphia Flyers in the first of three games against Metropolitan Division opponents this week.  The Caps, who have not won more than two consecutive games in more than a month, will be looking for a second consecutive win after their 4-3 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.  It would be only the second time they won consecutive games over a 16-game stretch dating back to the end of January.  The Flyers, on the other hand, are one of the hottest teams in the league, bringing a six-game winning streak into this contest, their longest of the season.

Then and Now…

The Capitals and Flyers will meet for the 223rd time in the regular season on Wednesday night.  Washington is 87-105-11 (19 ties) in the all-time series, 49-42-4 (13 ties) at home.  Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 30-18-11 against the Flyers overall and 16-8-4 at home.  This will be the fourth and final meeting of the clubs in the regular season, the Caps looking to earn a split in the series.  Washington won the first game between the teams, 2-1 in a Gimmick, on November 13th in Philadelphia.  The Flyers won the next two meetings, 3-2 in Philadelphia on January 8th and 7-2 in Washington on February 8th.

Active Leaders vs. Opponent…

Noteworthy Opponents…

Since January 8th, when the Flyers bested the Caps, 3-2, the Orange and Black are 16-5-1, tied for the league lead in standings points earned (33, with three other teams) through Monday's games and are tied for the second-best points percentage (.750).  They have done it largely with a productive offense that leads the league in goals per game (3.73) over the period.  With 23 points apiece, both Travis Konecny and Sean Couturier have had a hand in 28 percent of the league-leading 82 goals scored by the Flyers in that span.

Konecny, who posted 24 goals in each of the previous two seasons, can match that total with a goal against the Caps in this contest.  An even strength goal would give him 20 for the third straight season as well.  The real difference in his production this season that has allowed him to obliterate his previous high in points for a season (49 last year) has been his effectiveness as a power play distributor.  His 18 power play assists are more than four times the four he had last season and account for the difference between last year’s career high in points (49) and his new career high of 60 points this season.

Konecny leads the team in goals over the 22-game run (ten), a total that includes two power play goals, two first goals in games, and a pair of game-winning goals.  He has been a very efficient shooter as well, scoring those ten goals on 41 shots (24.4 percent).  He has had a tendency to put up points in bunches, too.  Overall this season, he has six three-point games, a total that matches that of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, and Toronto’s Auston Matthews.  In 14 career games against the Caps, Konecny is 4-1-5, even.

Couturier’s story has been one of consistency.  In posting his 23 points over the Flyers’ last 22 games, he recorded a point in 15 of those games, and only once did he go consecutive games without recording a point.  Oddly enough, that came against two of the weaker teams in the league – Detroit and New Jersey – in early February.  It is part of a longer string of consistent performance for Couturier, who has not gone as many as three games without a point since late October.  In 55 games since then, he is 19-34-53, plus-27, and has points in 36 of those games.  Odd Couturier/Konecny Fact… both players have points in 41 games overall this season.

Couturier has not been just a scorer, either.  His 60.0 faceoff winning percentage over those 22 games is second best in the league among 131 players taking at least 100 draws (Matt Duchene: 60.3 percent).  He and Kevin Hayes are the only forwards on the club averaging more than two minutes per game on both power plays and penalty kills over the 22-game stretch, and he averages more than a minute per game in overtime situations.  He leads the club in personal shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 over the period (58.1 percent; minimum: five games).  Couturier will also be looking to find himself in the Selke Trophy mix once more this season as top defensive forward.  He has earned Selke votes in each of the previous six seasons and was named a finalist in 2017-2018.  He goes into this game with eight goals in his last 11 games and has points in nine of those games.  Couturier is 8-15-23, plus-9, in 32 career games against the Caps.

Hart is Hot.  That would be Flyer goaltender Carter Hart, who seems to be the goaltender the Flyers have been searching for since Ron Hextall retired in 1999.  Hart is one of 29 goalies to dress for the Flyers since Hextall’s retirement, and in what is a clear sign of the frustration the Flyers have had in dressing so many goalies, Hart is already 11th on that list in wins, despite this being only his second season in the league.  If he gets the call on Wednesday and gets the win, it would be his 39th career win, tying Michal Neuvirth for 10th place on that list.

As we noted, he is hot.  Since stopping 26 of 28 shots in the Flyers’ 3-2 win over the Caps on January 8th, he is 9-2-0, 2.28, .919, and he comes into this game having won his last five decisions while stopping 130 of 140 shots (.929 save percentage).  However, Hart has been two very different goalies this year based on his home-road splits.  In 22 appearances at home this season, Hart is 18-2-2, 1.67, .941, with one shutout.  On the road, though, he is 4-10-1, 3.81, .857 in 18 appearances.  He endured a stretch of nine consecutive road appearances without a win, going 0-7-0 (two no decisions), stopping only 158 of 186 shots (.849 save percentage) before winning two of his last three decisions on the road, but still suffering a poor save percentage (.883/68 saves on 77 shots).  Hart is 1-1-1, 2.29, .926 in three career appearances against the Capitals.

1.  With 38 wins this season, the Flyers, in 65 games, have already surpassed last year’s win total (37).  Odd Flyer fact about wins… They are on a pace to win 48 games this season.  They have won more than 45 games 11 times in team history, and in six of those instances they went to the Stanley Cup final, but the last instance of that happening was in 1987, where they lost in seven games to the Edmonton Oilers.

2.  Second periods have been where the Flyers have stymied opponents over their 16-5-1 run.  With 32 goals scored (tied with Minnesota for most in the league) and only 17 allowed, their plus-15 goals differential is second only to Colorado (plus-17) over the period.

3.  In their 22-game run, the Flyers were out-shot eight times and won in seven of those instances.

4.  In those 22 games, the Flyers took a lead into the third period 14 times, second most in the league (Colorado: 15), and won in all 14 instances.

5.  Don’t let the Flyers score first.  In their 22-game run of success they scored first 13 times, winning 11 times, their .846 winning percentage in those instances being best in the league.

1.  The Caps are looking for a third consecutive win on home ice, after wins over Pittsburgh and Winnipeg, which would be their first three-game winning streak at home in 2020 and first since winning three in a row at home against Boston, Tampa Bay, and Columbus over the December 11-27 period.

2.  Washington is 7-6-1 over their last 14 home games dating back to New Year’s Eve.  Their .536 points percentage is tied for 20th in the league with Winnipeg on home ice in that span.

3.  In those 14 games, the Caps have scored 49 goals and allowed 49 goals, tied for seventh in home ice scoring offense and tied for 28th in home ice scoring defense in that span.

4.  Over those 14 games, the Caps net power play of 7.7 percent (accounting for shorthanded goals scored against) is third-worst in the league, while their net penalty kill of 87.8 percent is tied for eighth-best in the league.

5.  Part of the problem in the recent mediocre home record is an inability to carry success into intermissions.  The Caps have taken a lead into the first intermission only four times in their last 14 home games, winning all of them.  They have taken a lead into the second intermission only five times, going 4-1-0.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Ivan Provorov

An ingredient to the Flyers success generally this season has been getting offense from their defense.  Seven defensemen have recorded goals for the club this season, four of them with five or more. Two have more than 20 assists, and the same two – Matt Niskanen and Ivan Provorov – are tied for the team lead in points with 33.  Provorov leads the team’s defense in goals with 11, one of 15 defensemen so far to hit double digits in goals.

Has his offense mattered?  To a point, it has.  The Flyers are 7-2-2 in games in which he scored a goal, 19-6-3 in the 28 games in which he had a point, 14-7-4 in the 25 games in which he had three or more shots on goal.  Those are very good number, but not eye-popping.  They are more or less what one might expect when a defenseman is engaged in the offense.  He has been on ice for even strength goals scored against the team in 37 of his 65 games, and the team is 16-17-4 in those games.  Again, this is not all that surprising, based on the fact that Provorov averages 19:08 in even strength ice time per game, most among Flyer defensemen.  It is fair to say that thing happen when he is on the ice, not all of it good for the club.  The burden of carrying a heavy workload.

Over the 22-game run of success for the Flyers since January 8th, others have taken up a bigger share of the offense from the blue line.  Provorov has two goals in that span (fourth among defensemen), and nine points (tied for third).  Still, his contributions are part of a broader sharing of the offensive burden.  Three Flyer defensemen – Matt Niskanen, Travis Sanheim, and Robert Hagg – all have three goals, and Niskanen and Sanheim have posted double digits in points (16 and 10, respectively) over the 16-5-1 run.  Provorov is 1-4-5, plus-5, in 15 career games against Washington.

Washington: Garnet Hathaway

Every streak starts with “one.”  When Garnet Hathaway scored a goal in the Caps’ 4-3 win over Winnipeg on February 25th, it broke a 24-game streak without a goal, and it was his first goal on home ice since he had empty net goal in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers on October 18th.  The last time he recorded a goal on home ice against a goaltender was in the Caps’ home opener, oddly enough the first goal scored by the Caps on home ice this season, in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.  But he has that “one” and can make it two in a row of goal-games on home ice against the Flyers on Wednesday.

Part of the issue with Hathaway might be in his shooting frequency, which is something to notice about the fourth line in general.  Hathaway is averaging less than a shot on goal per home game (29 in 30 home games), as are his frequent fourth line teammates, Nic Dowd (23 in 24 home games), and the recently replaced Brendan Leipsic (26 in 30 home games).

That is not to say Hathaway does not make his contributions.  His 85 hits on home ice are second among forwards to Tom Wilson (146).  He has 21 blocked shots, one of five Caps forwards with at least 20 on home ice this season.  He has a positive takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (10 takeaways to nine giveaways).  His orneriness on home ice is reflected in his 52 penalty minutes, which leads the team by a healthy margin (Wilson: 31), but even with that, he has drawn 18 penalties on home ice while taking 16, his 3.44 penalties drawn per 60 minutes on home ice being more than twice as many as the next highest forward (T.J. Oshie: 1.54 penalties drawn per 60 minutes) and his net 0.38 penalties per 60 minutes ranking third highest among Caps forwards, behind Oshie (1.13) and Leipsic (0.45).  Although his offense has been sparse, Hathaway has been a skilled practitioner in hockey’s grittier arts on home ice this season.  In eight career games against the Flyers, he is 0-1-1, minus-3.

In the end…

If someone had remarked that the Caps would play a critical game against a team from Pennsylvania in March, one would have assumed they were talking about the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Well, that game will come on Saturday.  But this game against the Flyers, who sit only three points behind the Caps in the Metropolitan Division standings, qualifies as “critical.”  The advantage for the Caps here, despite the Flyers’ momentum over the past eight weeks, is that the Flyers are just 15-15-3 on the road this season, tied for 20th in points percentage in the league (.500).  The Caps have hardly been earthshaking at home, posting an 18-9-5 record overall (.641 points percentage ranking ninth in the league) and 3-5-1 in their last eight games at Capital One Arena.  This game could feature many twists, turns, and lead changes before it is settled.  But when it is, the Caps will have extended their division lead.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 3