The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
It is back-to-back Thursday for the Washington Capitals as they head to New York to face the Rangers after hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. The Caps, who broke a four-game losing streak on the road against the Minnesota Wild in their last road contest, will be looking to make it two in a row against the Blueshirts. The Rangers, who reached a season-high 11 games over .500 (35-24-4) with a fifth straight win on February 27th against the Montreal Canadiens, come into this game having dropped three in a row and find themselves four points out of the second wild-card spot for a berth in the playoffs.
Then and Now…
This will be the 225th regular season meeting between the Capitals and the Rangers. Washington is 108-91-7 (18 ties) in the all-time series, 49-51-3 (nine ties) on the road. Since 2005-2006, the Caps are 31-23-4 against the Rangers overall and 14-13-3 on the road. This will be the third of four meetings of the clubs in the regular season. The teams split the first two games, each team winning on home ice, the Caps by a 5-2 margin on October 18th and the Rangers in a 4-1 decision on November 20th.
Active Leaders vs. Opponent…
A team rebuilding is a team trying to go younger, and the Rangers are no exception. Of the 27 skaters to dress for the club this season, 13 are 25 years old or younger, including Brady Skjei, who was traded to Carolina at the trading deadline. None is younger than Kappo Kakko, the second overall pick in last summer’s entry draft. It has been an up and down rookie season for the youngster. He started the season a relatively quiet 1-1-2, minus-12, in his first nine games before breaking out with five goals over his next seven games. However, his two-goal game against Pittsburgh on November 12th, his first multi-goal game in the NHL, to end that five goals in seven games run, was the high water mark of his season. Since then, Kakko has two goals in his last 46 games, ten assists, and carries a minus-13 rating.
The odd part about his goal scoring is how it bears little relationship to win-loss outcomes. The Rangers are just 3-3-1 in the seven games in which he has a goal so far. It isn’t really any better when he records points, the Rangers going 8-6-2 in the 16 games in which he has points. In fact, even his disengagement from the offense, as far as it is reflected in shots on goal, looks out of place. The Rangers are 8-5-2 in the 15 games in which Kakko did not record a shot on goal. Time on ice? Getting it has been a problem for the club. New York is 2-9-1 in the 12 games in which he skated 16:49 or more, 8-3-1 when he skated under 12 minutes. Consider them growing pains. He is 0-2-2, minus-2, in his two career games against the Caps so far.
On defense, Adam Fox is the youngest of eight defensemen to dress for the Rangers this season and one of only two to dress for all 66 games to date (Jacob Trouba is the other). Fox was a third-round pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2016 Entry Draft (66th overall), upon which he was traded twice before ever appearing in an NHL game, first from Calgary to Carolina with Dougie Hamilton and Miceal Ferland for Noah Hanafin and Elias Lindholm in June 2018, and again last April by Carolina to the Rangers for a second round pick in the 2019 Entry Draft and a third round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft.
Fox has broken through in a big way as a rookie this season. He is tied for third among rookie defensemen in goals (seven, with Minnesota’s Carson Soucy), third in assists (28), third in points (35), first in plus-minus (plus-19), tied for seventh in penalty minutes (28, with Philadelphia’s Philippe Myers), third in power play points (13), and tied for first in game-winning goals (four, with Colorado’s Cale makar). He is also tied for third in that group in blocked shots (87, with Columbus’ Vladimir Gavrikov) and first in takeaways (56). What he has not done much lately, though, is hit the back of the net. Fox has one goal in his last 21 games, but he does have ten assists, and he comes into this game 1-3-4, plus-3, over his last five games.
The future of Ranger netminding would appear to be the property of Igor Shesterkin, who has been impressive in his NHL debut season, going 9-1-0, 2.23, .940 in ten appearances to date. However, he has not made an appearance since stopping 44 of 46 shots against San Jose in a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden on February 22nd. He and teammate Pavel Buchnevich were involved in a car accident in Brooklyn on February 23rd, Shesterkin suffering a non-displace rib fracture.
Shesterkin’s timetable for returning to the ice has been moved forward, but for now, the bulk of the netminding duty would seem to fall to Alexandar Georgiev, himself having just turned 24 and in only his third NHL season. The undrafted Georgiev signed a three-year contract as a free agent with the Rangers in July 2017 on the basis of an impressive developmental camp performance. If he gets the call in this contest, it will be Georgiev’s 33rd appearance of the season, matching his career high set last season. He already has a career-high 16 wins , although his goals against average (2.98) is little changed from last season (2.91), as is his save percentage (.912 versus .914 last year).
The odd part about Georgiev’s record this year is how weak his record is on home ice. While he sports a 13-5-0, 2.88, .922 record on the road with two shutouts, he is just 3-9-1, 3.13, .895 in 14 appearances at Madison Square Garden this season. It is a reversal of his record last season, when he was 7-3-3, 2.23, .931, with one shutout at home and 7-10-1, 3.44, .902, with one shutout on the road. He is just 1-7-0, 3.09, .894 (one no-decision) in his last nine appearances on home ice. Georgiev is 0-2-1, 4.06, .875 in three career appearances against the Caps.
1. If the Rangers are going to make a final push for a playoff spot, they need to step up their performances on home ice over their last seven home games. Their .529 points percentage at MSG (17-15-2) is tied for 26th in the league.
2. New York has the fourth-best power play on home ice in the league (27.0 percent), and they get to deploy it, their 3.38 opportunities per game ranking sixth in the league.
3. On the other hand, the Rangers have the league’s worst penalty kill on home ice (74.7 percent) and its second-worst net penalty kill, after accounting for shorthanded goals scored (77.9 percent, only Detroit being worse at 75.7 percent).
4. Only Arizona has lost more games in regulation this season when taking a lead into the first intermission (six) than the Rangers (four, tied with New Jersey, Detroit, and Montreal). They are one of seven teams to have won only one game on home ice when trailing at the first intermission, fewest in the league.
5. Shots on goal matter with the Rangers on home ice, but not in the expected way. They have six wins in 13 games when out-shooting opponents (6-7-0), but they have ten wins in 19 games when out-shot (10-7-2).
1. The Caps have played 33 road games to date and have 45 standings points. With a win in this game, the Caps would tie the 2007-2008 and 2017-2018 teams for seventh-most standings points earned in a season since 2005-2006 with seven road games left to play and 14 more points available. They can capture the top spot, it being held by the 2015-2016 club that earned 58 points on the road (27-10-4), but only if they win out on the road.
2. This year’s Caps have the second-best scoring offense on the road (3.39 goals per game) of any club since 2005-2006. Only the 2009-2010 team was better (3.83 goals per game).
3. As bad as the Caps have been on faceoffs on the road this season (47.5 percent/24th in the league), it is only the third-worst club on draws on the road since 2005-2006. The 2013-2014 team was worse (45.1 percent), and was last year’s club (43.8 percent).
4. One area in which the Caps have made considerable improvement on the road is making teams face their power play. Last year, the Caps averaged 2.51 power play chances per game, fewest in the post-2005-2006 era. This year, they are averaging 3.36 chances per game, a 33.9 percent improvement.
5. On the other hand, the Caps are going shorthanded more often this season on the road (3.58 times per game) than last season (3.20, fewest in the post-2005-2006 era).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Henrik Lundqvist.
When Larry Brooks penned this column in the New York Post on March 1st, it read like a eulogy for the greatest goaltender in New York Ranger history. Few athletes get to go out entirely on their own terms, and the end can be difficult to watch. For a class act like Henrik Lundqvist, it is more difficult, not just for Rangers fans, but for fans of the sport who have had the chance to watch one of the great careers in goal play out. When Lundqvist took the ice for the Rangers against the Flyers last Sunday, it was his first game in almost three weeks and would be his first complete game in a full month and that, ironically, being a 33-save shutout of the Detroit Red Wings. In three appearances since that shutout of the Red Wings, Lundqvist’s number have been ghastly. In 103 minutes over three appearances he stopped only 33 of 42 shots (.786 save percentage) and lost both of his decisions.
Oddly enough, Lundqvist has thrived in high shot-volume situations this season, going 8-4-2 (one no decision) when facing more than 30 shots, stopping 525 of 567 shots along the way (.926 save percentage). In the six games in which he faced more than 40 shots, he stopped 247 of the 264 shots he faced (.936).
Lundqvist has always been a consistent performer, regardless of venue, his career save percentage being .918 in both career home and road games. This season has been a bit of a departure for the veteran, posting a home record of 8-5-1, 3.08, .910 and a road record of 2-7-2, 3.32, .897, with one shutout. In 42 career appearances against the Caps, Lundqvist is 22-13-7, 2.76, .907, with four shutouts.
Washington: John Carlson
John Carlson’s next goal will give him a career-high 16 for the season. His 58 assists and 73 points are already career highs, the second straight year he topped 50 assists and 70 points. His 8.3 percent shooting is a career best. His 37 primary assists are tied with Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl among all skaters, not only defensemen, and trail only Connor McDavid (38) and Jonathan Huberdeau (39) going into Wednesday night’s game against Philadelphia. His 1.12 points per game are most by a defenseman appearing in at least 50 games since 1993-1994, when Ray Bourque (1.26) and Sergei Zubov (1.14) had higher points per game. At his current points per game pace, Carlson would finish this season with 91 points. The last defenseman to have more in a season was Phil Housley, who finished with 97 points in 1992-1993. You would think Carlson would be clearing space on his mantel for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, even if his candidacy is largely based on his offensive performance.
You would be, if not wrong, then premature. Not that being the scoring leader among defenseman is a reliable predictor of Norris Trophy winners. In 14 seasons before this one, since 2005-2006, the trophy was won by the scoring leader among defensemen six times, most recently by Brent Burns in 2016-2017. It is interesting to note that the trophy was won by the second-leading scorer among defensemen four times in that span, most recently by Mark Giordano last season.
Josi is said by many to have the superior all-around game, defensemen expected to defend as well as score to be taken seriously as a Norris candidate. But in goals allowed at even strength, Carlson has been on ice for 23 goals, while Josi has been on ice for 21. Josi does get more penalty killing ice time (2:06 per game) than Carlson (1:27), which accounts for their difference in total ice time per game, and that makes a point for Josi. The question might come down to whether Carlson’s offensive numbers are so dominant in a recent historical context, to offset the “balance” that is attributed to Josi. Carlson is 5-21-26, minus-1, in 35 career games against the Rangers.
In the end…
A win over the New York will not drive a stake through the Rangers’ playoff chances, but it will make their climb that much steeper to navigate. And that is the theme of the week in which the Caps play three division rivals. Send a message, make their lives harder as the season winds down, make a point that the Caps are still the class of the Metro. Even with this being the second half of back-to-back games, the tenth of 12 such sets the Caps will play this season (they swept three and split six in their first nine sets), they have enough to make things difficult for the Rangers.
Capitals 4 – Rangers 3