Friday, July 31, 2020

The Peerless Prognosticator is BACK ON THE AIR!!! -- Round Robin Game 1: Capitals vs. Lightning

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

August 3rd is the 216th day of 2020, was the day in 1492 that Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain for the New World, is the 99th anniversary of baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banning the eight Chicago “Black Sox” from Major League Baseball, and it is the day this year on which the Washington Capitals resume their chase for the Stanley Cup.

The Capitals and the other 23 teams in the revamped Stanley Cup tournament have been frozen in place on their Stanley Cup course since the NHL announced its “pause” in the season due to concerns over the COVID-19 virus on March 12th.  But Monday, the Caps will take the ice for the first game with meaning in 147 days when they face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first of three round-robin games to determine seeding for the official “playoffs” to follow.

How we got here…

November 29: Capitals 4 – Lightning 3 (OT)

Tampa Bay scored goals 5:38 apart (Braden Point, Mikhail Sergachev) straddling the first and second periods to take a 2-0 lead in Washington.  After Evgeny Kuznetsov halved the lead on a power play 5:17 into the second period, the Lightning took their second two-goal lead of the game on an Alex Killorn goal with 1:12 left in the frame, the second time in the game the Bolts scored with less than 90 seconds left in a period.  Jakub Vrana scored 3:45 into the third period to pull the Caps within a goal for a second time, and then Alex Ovechkin tied the game on a power play mid-way through the period, beating goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy with a one-timer on the short side:

Dmitry Orlov won the game 3:03 into overtime when he looked off Vasilevskiy from the left wing circle faking “pass” and snapped a shot past the goalie’s blocker for the win.

December 14: Capitals 5 – Lightning 2

The second meeting of the teams started innocently enough, Nicklas Backstrom opening the scoring in the seventh minute of the first period and Brayden Point tying the game in the sixth minute of the second period in Tampa.  In the third period, though, the Caps dominated.  Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway scored less than a minute apart early in the period to put the Caps in front.  Jan Rutta got one of them back mid-way through the period, but T.J. Oshie put to rest any further thoughts of a comeback with a goal 63 seconds after Rutta’s to give the Caps a 4-2 lead.  Tom Wilson closed the scoring with an empty-net goal with 38.6 seconds left in the 5-2 Caps win.

December 21: Capitals 3 – Lightning 1

After a scoreless first period, Radko Gudas opened the scoring 4:40 into the second period to give the Caps the lead.  That goal held up until the 10:00 mark of the third period when Nikita Kucherov tied the game for the visitors.  The Caps broke back on top less than four minutes later on a goal by Dmitry Orlov, who one-timed a feed from Jakub Vrana from the top of the left wing circle for what proved to be the game-winning goal.  Nic Dowd provided the final margin with a shorthanded empty-net goal with 2:23 left.

The numbers:

Who’s hot, or at least, who was hot for the Caps?
  • Alex Ovechkin. In his last ten games before the pause, Ovechkin led the Caps in goals (eight) and points (ten), shooting 22.9 percent along the way.
  • Richard Panik. Over his last ten games before the pause, Panik tied for second in points (eight) and was second in plus-minus (plus-6).  One of his two goals over that span was a game-winner, that coming in the Caps’ last win before the pause, a 5-2 win in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
  • Tom Wilson.  In his ten games leading up to the pause, Wilson had four goals, one of them a power play goal against the New Jersey Devils and another being a game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Wild in Minnesota.

Who’s cold, or at least, who was cold for the Caps?
  • Brenden Dillon.  He was not expected to be a big offensive contributor when he came to the Caps from San Jose at the trading deadline, but in ten games with the Caps, he is still looking for his first point with his new team.
  • Evgeny Kuznetsov.  When he returns to the ice against Tampa Bay, Kuznetsov will be dragging along with him an 11-game streak without a goal on 19 shots.
  • Nicklas Backstrom.  In his last 19 games, Backstrom has two goals on 36 shots.  The good sign for him, given that the Caps will be playing away from Washington, is that his last five goals scored in the regular season were on the road.

Who to watch for the Lightning…
  • Nikita Kucherov.  In 21 games after the All-Star Game break, Kucherov was 11-20-31; three of his 11 goals were game-winners.
  • Steven Stamkos.  Limited to only 12 games after the All-Star Game break (core muscle surgery), Stamkos still scored 11 goals to tie for the team lead.  However, he did suffer a leg injury in the voluntary workout phase leading up to the tournament, so he will bear watching.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy.  Since the All-Star Game break, Vasilevskiy is tied for the league lead in goalie wins (11, with Nashville’s Juuse Saros), but he has done it more as a passenger. His goals against average of 2.59 ranks 18th among 38 goalies with at least 500 minutes over that span, while his save percentage of .917 ranks 16th in that group. His 3.70 career GAA against the Caps is second-worst among all NHL teams he has faced (3.72 vs. Colorado), and his .897 career save percentage against Washington is second-worst among Eastern Conference teams he has faced (.895 vs. Ottawa).

Fun Facts in the Season Series…
  • The Caps scored 12 goals in three games against the Lightning.  That total was shared by 11 players, Dmitry Orlov the only player with two goals.
  • Both of Orlov’s goals were game-winners, his only game-winning goals of the season.
  • The Caps owned the third period against the Lightning, outscoring them in each third period of the three games and 8-2 in the final frame overall.
  • John Carlson did not record a point in three games against the Lightning, one of five teams against whom he did not record a point this season (Buffalo, Columbus, Vancouver, and Winnipeg being the others).
  • Only nine of 21 skaters to dress for the Lightning recorded points against the Caps this season.  
And so the Capitals, 21 weeks to the day since their last game played in anger, will resume their quest to hoist the Stanley Cup.  In the first of what will be the oddest set of tournament games ever played in the NHL…

Capitals 4 – Lightning 3