Thursday, April 29, 2021

A ONE-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 50: Penguins 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

It was rivalry night in Washington as the Washington Capitals hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena.  It was two months since these teams last met, but the hiatus did nothing to diminish the intensity or the importance of this first of a two-game set.  It was a back and forth game, but the Penguin scored the last goal, in overtime, to take a 5-4 decision.

First Period

The Penguins dominated the pace early, but the Caps turned the momentum and capitalized on a power play.  With Evan Rodrigues in the penalty box for a delay of game/puck over glass call at 7:15, Nicklas Backstrom started the scoring play with a feed to Justin Schultz at the top of the offensive zone for a one-timer. The shot was re-directed by T.J. Oshie, camped out at the top of the crease, past goalie Tristan Jarry to make it 1-0, Caps, at the 7:27 mark.

Schultz went to the penalty box with his own two-minute sentence, an interference call at 7:56. Pittsburgh failed to convert that chance, but they evened the score late in the period when Kasperi Kapanen took advantage of an unforced error by Nicklas Backstrom, picking off a pass attempt Backstrom attempted from the left wing wall in the high slot, stepping up, and snapping a shot past goalie Vitek Vanecek at 15:27 of the period. It would be the last scoring of the first period.

-- Pittsburgh outshot the Caps, 14-10, in the period and out-attempted them, 24-23.

-- Dmitry Orlov and Daniel Sprong led the team with two shots on goal apiece; Sprong had four shot attempts.

-- Brenden Dillon led the Caps in ice time in the first 20 minutes (7:36).  The odd ice time number was Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had only 4:16 in the period.

Second Period

Washington went a man short early when Kuznetsov was whistled for holding at the 1:48 mark. Washington killed off the penalty and kept the game tied at one goal apiece.  The Penguins took their first lead of the game, though, when Frederick Gaudreau took a pass from Jason Zucker on the weak side and snapped a shot past Vanecek’s blocker on the short side at 8:32 of the period.

Dmitry Orlov tied the game once more at the 9:02 mark when Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to Jarry’s right back to Orlov, and Orlov blasted a shot through traffic, off Jarry, off the post, and in to make it a 2-2 game.

Washington went the power play when Marcus Pettersson hauled down T.J. Oshie and went to the box for a holding call at 9:22.  The Caps were not able to convert the opportunity, though, and the game remained tied.

Daniel Sprong gave the Caps the lead late in the period when, with Brian Dumouilin draped all over him at the post to Jarry’s right, he re-directed a Justin Schultz drive up and over the right pad of Jarry to make it 3-2 at the 15:07 mark.

The Caps lead did not make it to the end of the period, though.  Zach Aston-Reese tied the game at the 18:11 mark… That would be how the teams went to the second intermission.

-- Washington outshot the Penguins, 17-11, in the period and out-attempted them, 23-19.

-- Anthony Mantha and Conor Sheary were the only Caps without a shot attempt through 40 minutes.

-- Brenden Dillon led the team with six credited hits through two periods.

Third Period

The teams fought to a draw for the first half of the period, but the Penguins took the lead in the 11th minute.  Kasperi Kapanen scored his second goal of the game when he took a long cross-ice lead pass from Jared McCann, skated into the right wing circle, and snapped a shot over the left shoulder of Vanecek on the short side to make it 4-3, Penguins, at the 10:55 mark.

The Caps dug the hole a little deeper when Michael Raffl was charged with a holding penalty at the 15:35 mark. Washington skated off the penalty, but they were still left trying to erase the one-goal deficit.

And they Caps did just that with 14.3 seconds left when Kuznetsov out-fought Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin to free the puck out of the corner to Jarry’s left to send it to Tom Wilson in the low slot.  He settled the puck and blasted it past Jarry to tie the game, which is how regulation ended, sending the contest to…


Jake Guentzel won it for the Penguins in overtime...blech. 

Other stuff…

-- Both teams clinched playoff spots with the overtime outcome.  The teams are tied in standings points, but the Caps retain the top spot in the East Division by virtue of fewer games played.

-- This was the fourth time in seven meetings that the teams went to extra time, the Penguins winning all of them.

-- The Caps outshot the Penguins, 37-35; both teams had 61 shot attempts.

-- Dmitry Orlov, T.J. Oshie, and Carl Hagelin led the team with four shots apiece; Orlov had nine shot attempts.

-- The Caps were credited with 32 hits to the Penguins’ 14.  Brenden Dillon led the team with seven.

-- Justin Schultz led the team with 23:09 I ice time; Garnet Hathaway had the least (10:28).

-- Conor Sheary was the only Capital without a shot attempt.

-- Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, the 44th game of his career with three or more assists, extending his all-time lead in franchise history in this category.

-- Dmitry Orlov had a goal and an assist, bringing his scoring line to 3-5-8 in his last nine games.

-- Vitek Vanecek allowed five goals on 35 shots, the second time this season he allowed five goals to Pittsburgh in an extra time game (January 19th, another 5-4 overtime loss, was the other).

In the end…

The best one could say is that it could have been worse.  But four goals with Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson out of the lineup is something to build on.  Then again, the worst one could say is the Caps just had too many unforced errors in this game that led to Penguin chances – either scoring chances or power play opportunities.  And it is becoming apparent that Vitek Vanecek’s inconsistency (the third time in four games he allowed four or more goals, the fourth instance being a shutout) is going to do him in in his battle with Ilya Samsonov for the number one goaltending role.  But still, we can still refer to the Caps as the East Division leaders, and that’s not a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 50/51: Capitals vs. Penguins, April 29/May 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals continue wrapping up their regular season series in advance of the postseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins being next on the list with two games at Capital One Arena to close out the season series.  The teams have not met in more than two months, but  time does not diminish the flame of this rivalry, made more intense in this instance as the two teams battle down the stretch for the top spot and top seed in the East Division.

The Caps and Pens last met on February 25th, a 5-2 Capitals win that featured six third period goals, two of them empty netters by the Caps that provided the final margin.  Since that loss, the Penguins have the third-best record in the league (22-8-2) and the sixth-best points percentage (.719).

Pittsburgh has done it largely without the services of Evgeni Malkin, who has been out of the lineup on long-term injured reserve since suffering a lower body injury on March 16th.  Only recently did he return to practice in a non-contact jersey.  In Malkin’s absence, Sidney Crosby stepped up.  In 21 games since Malkin left the lineup, Crosby is third on the team in goals scored (nine), tied for first in assists (18, with Kris Letang), first in points (27), tied for second in game-winning goals (two, with Jake Guentzel), leads the team in first goals scored in games (three), leads the team in takeaways (23), has taken more faceoffs (517) than the next four Penguins over that span (467) to a 54.2 winning percentage, and leads all Penguins forwards in ice time per game (20:36).  He is tied for seventh in the league in scoring (27 points, with Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, 11th in points per game (1.29), and tied for fifth in power play points (10).  Crosby is the active leader in career points against the Caps, going 28-52-80, minus-2, in 58 career games against Washington.

Kris Letang occupies the top spot in almost every meaningful statistical category among defensemen in Penguins history – first in games played (857), first in goals (134), first in assists (443), first in points (577), first in power play goals (44), first in overtime goals (six), first in game-winning goals (26), first in shots on goal (2,225), first in minutes played (20,571 since 1997-1998, when the league began capturing that statistic), first in blocked shots (1,278, since 2005-2006), first in takeaways (440, since 2005-2006), first in first goals scored in games (25).  Letang is another player who stepped up in the absence of Malkin, going 2-18-20, plus-6, leading all Penguin defensemen in points and fourth in points among all NHL defensemen over that span.  Against the Caps, though, Letang has struggled over the years.  He is tied for second among Pittsburgh defensemen all-time in goals scored against Washington (seven) and is third in career points against Washington (26) in 46 career games (first all-time among Penguin defensemen against the Capitals), but he is the worst of 159 defensemen to dress for the Penguins against the Caps in plus-minus (minus-27).

The Penguins are gambling on a question with regard to its goaltending.  Is “good enough” actually good enough?  Tristan Jarry appears to have claimed the number one goaltending spot for the Penguins, but his overall numbers to not impress.  Jarry is tied for third in wins among goalies (21, with Marc-Andre Fleury and Connor Hellybuyck), but among 47 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played, he ranks 26th in goals against average (2.71) and 22nd in save percentage (.911).  Among 43 goalies appearing in at least 20 games, he ranks 17th in even strength save percentage (.921) and 33rd in save percentage against power plays (.838).  It has not been better recently.  Since April 1st, Jarry ranks 23rd of 46 goalies logging at least 250 minutes in goals against average (2.51) and 22nd in save percentage (.914).  Among 48 goalies dressing for at least five games since April 1st, he ranks 16th in even strength save percentage (.929).  On the other hand, Jarry is 6-1-1 in nine appearances in April, but the question is whether he can step up when the games get tighter in the postseason.  Jarry is 2-2-0, 2.77, .914 in four career appearances against the Caps, all of those appearances coming this season.

1.  If Alex Ovechkin does not play, Sidney Crosby could take over the number two spot among active players in career points in the NHL.  Crosby has 1,319 points to Ovechkin’s 1,320.  Joe Thornton leads active players in career points with 1,523.

2.  The Penguins have dressed 12 defensemen this season, but they have played 21 consecutive games with the same six defensemen in the lineup – Kris Letang, Mike Matheson, Cody Ceci, Brian Dumoulin, John Marino, and Marcus Pettersson.

3.  No team has more wins on home ice this season than the Penguins (20), and their points percentage (.808) on home ice ranks third in the league.  Their road record is less impressive.  Their 12-11-1 record on the road is tied for 12th in wins, 17th in standings points earned (25), and their points percentage (.521) ranks 16th.  They are, however, 4-1-0 in their last five road contests.

4.  The Penguins rank 25th in the league in scoring defense on the road (3.33 goals against per game) and have allowed 29 goals in their last seven road contests (4.14 per game).  Only one of those games was against a playoff-eligible team (a 7-5 loss to Boston on April 3rd).

5.  Only New Jersey has a worse penalty kill on the road this season (66.7 percent) than Pittsburgh (67.7 percent).  It has been even worse of late – 61.1 percent over their last seven games (11-for-18).

1.  Washington leads the league in power play efficiency on home ice (33.9 percent).

2.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals this season than the Caps (eight). Half of them (four) have been allowed in April.

3.  The Caps lead the league in one-goal wins (17), fewest one-goal losses in regulation (one), and winning percentage in one-goal games (.773/17-1-4).

4.  Washington leads the league in goals scored at 5-on-5 (120).

5.  If the Caps win on Thursday night, they will even the all-time series with the Penguins at 103 wins and 103 regulation losses.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Pittsburgh: Jeff Carter

At the age of 36, Jeff Carter is coming to the end of the road.  This might not be his last season, but he can see it from here.  And one of the most prolific scorers of his generation is limping a bit to the end.  Since coming into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-2006, Carter ranks eighth among all players in goals scored (393). Consistency has been a hallmark of his game.  That career goal total was complied despite only topping 40 goals in a season once (46 goals with the Flyers in 2008-2009) and topping 30 goals only four times in 16 seasons.  But since he posted 32 goals in 2016-2017 with the Los Angeles Kings, he has played in only 211 of 294 possible games and scored 54 goals over that span (a 21-goalpace over 82 games).  He lost games to an assortment of injuries – ankle, upper-body, lower-body, core muscle.

When the Penguins acquired Carter for a pair of mid-round draft picks at the trading deadline, he was not expected to be more than a support scorer. However, with the absence of Evgeni Malkin for the foreseeable future, there is a bit more pressure on him to produce in the offensive end.  Reviews are mixed in that regard.  Since joining the Pens lineup on April 15th, Carter is 3-1-4, plus-3, in eight games, tied for third in goals and tied for eight in points for the Penguins. All three of his goals have come in the last five games, Carter alternating games with and without goals over that short span.  Carter is 15-15-30, plus-3, in 34 career games against Washington.

Washington: Evgeny Kuznetsov

Twenty seven players in Capitals history have combined to score 32 overtime goals in the postseason.  Series clinching overtime goals are more rare – Dale Hunter against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 in 1988, John Druce in Game 5 against the New York Rangers in 1990, Brian Bellows in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins in 1998, Joe Juneau in Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres in 1998, Joel Ward in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in 2012, Marcus Johansson in Game 6 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017.  And then there was Evgeny Kuznetsov, scoring perhaps the most satisfying series clinching goal in Capitals history:


It was part of a postseason that ranks as the best of any skater in Caps history.  Unfortunately, Kuznetsov’s game has lacked a certain consistency since.  In 178 regular season games since that magical postseason, he is 49-103-152, plus-13, in 178 regular season games.  Good, certainly (a 23-47-70, plus-6 scoring line per 82 games), but something has just seemed “off” about his game.  His points per game dropped in each of the three regular seasons since that 2018 postseason (from 1.05 PPG to 0.95, to 0.83, to 0.72 this season), and he is 4-7-11, minus-5, in 15 postseason games over the last three seasons.

But after stumbling a bit coming out of the gate for the 2020-2021 season (2-4-6, minus-2, in his first 14 games), Kuznetsov has seen his production improve over his last 25 games.  In that span he is 7-15-22, plus-10, tied for third in goals on the team, third in assists, tied for second on the team in points, tied for third in plus-minus, and first in game-winning goals (four). And, he is 2-5-7, plus-2, in his last five games, including Tuesday’s game against the New York Islanders, when he was held to 14:21 of ice time due to an injury that limited him to seven minutes of ice time over the last 40 minutes of the 1-0 win.

If there is one thing the Caps would like to see improve in Kuznetsov’s performance, it might be his production on home ice.  He is 3-8-11 in scoring on home ice this season, tied for ninth in goals and seventh in points.  He does not have a point in his last four games at Capital One Arena after going 3-6-9 in his previous seven games on home ice.  Kuznetsov is 2-3-5, minus-1, in six games against the Penguins this season and 6-13-19, minus-1, in 32 career games against Pittsburgh.

In the end…

The Caps have an opportunity here.  Two games at home against a good team that struggles some on the road, with a one-point lead in the standings and a game in hand.  A sweep, and the Caps will hold a five-point lead on the division with five games to play.  But hockey, like all team sports, is played one game at a time.  Win one, then think about winning another.

Capitals 5 – Penguins 4

Capitals 5 – Penguins 3

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

A TWO-Point Night: Washington Capitals -- Game 49: Capitals 1 - Islanders 0

The Washington Capitals and the New York Islanders wrapped up their three-game series on Tuesday night and brought to an end their eight-game regular season schedule against one another at Capital One Arena.  The Caps won the first two games of this three-game set on Long Island but still found themselves looking up at the Pittsburgh Penguins in the East Division standings as play began.  The Islanders were trying to avoid sinking closer to fourth place in the standings, three points ahead of the Boston Bruins at puck drop.  The Caps scored early and made it stand up, shutting out the Islanders for the second time in the three-game set, again by a 1-0 score.

First Period

Daniel Sprong got the Caps off and running at the 1:29 mark with the game’s first shot on goal when he picked up a loose puck that Dmitry Orlov kept alive, skated out from the corner between Mathew Barzal and Ryan Polock, and snapped a shot far side over the glove of goalie Ilya Sorokin to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

The teams went back and forth with the Caps frustrating the Islanders exits and entries after the Sprong tally, but the Caps got a 5-on-3 power play late in the period when Ryan Pulock took a tripping call for the Isles at 17:50 of the period, and Braydon Coburn went off at 18:34 for a tripping call of his own.  The Caps did not convert on the 5-on-3 portion of the power play, but 34 seconds of 5-on-4 time would carry over to the second period.

-- Washington outshot the Islanders, 10-7, in the first period and out-attempted them, 20-15.

-- The Caps did not allow a goal in the first period.  Since allowing four goals in the first period in the Isles’ 8-4 win on April 1st, they have allowed one first period goal in four games against New York.

-- Fourteen of 18 skaters had shot attempts for the Caps in the first period, T.J. Oshie leading the team with three.

Second Period

Washington was not able to convert the carry over power play time, and the teams played on with the Caps clinging to that 1-0 lead.

In the fifth minute, Michael Raffl was boarded by Matt Martin, and Zdeno Chara came to Raffl’s aid, dropping the gloves with Martin.  It was not much of a contest, Chara getting all the punches in, but both went off for fighting at 4:20 of the period.

The Islanders got their first power play of the game when Daniel Sprong was sent to the box on a hooking call at the 18:36 mark. New York failed to convert before the clock ran out on the period, but they would have 36 seconds of carryover time into the third period.

-- The Caps dominated the shots on goal, outshooting the Isles, 13-5, in the period.  Washington out-attempted New York, 31-14, in the second period.

-- Nic Dowd led the Caps with four shots on goal and seven shot attempts through 40 minutes.

-- Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillon were the only Caps without a shot on goal through two periods.  Dillon also led the team in credited hits with four.

Third Period

Washington killed off the remainder of the Islander power play that carried over from the second period, and the teams continued on with the Caps holding that 1-0 lead.

New York was awarded another power play when Evgeny Kuznetsov skated off on a slashing call at the 10:50 mark.  The Caps killed off the penalty with no damage done.

Tom Wilson for the Caps and Jean-Gabriel Pageau went off on matching roughing minors at the 13:35 mark.  Anthony Mantha then went off for a hooking call at 14:22 to put the Islanders on a 4-on-3 power play.  Washington killed off the shorthanded situation to hang on to their 1-0 lead.

The Isles pulled Sorokin from the net late, but to no avail.  The Caps skated off with the 1-0 shutout.

Other stuff…

-- With the win, the Caps won the season series, 6-2-0.  The Caps allowed the Islanders only four goals in their last four meetings, shutting out the Islanders twice.

-- Washington reclaimed first place in the East Division, jumping over the Pittsburgh Penguins, who lost to the Boston Bruins, 3-1.  The Caps hold a game in hand on the Penguins.

-- Zdeno Chara was the only Capital without a shot on goal for the evening.

-- The Caps outshot New York, 33-18, and out-attempted them, 66-45.

-- Nic Dowd led the Caps with four shots on goal and seven shot attempts for the game.

-- Brenden Dillon was credited with eight hits to lead both teams.

-- Washington won the faceoff battle, going 29-for-48 (60.4 percent).  Dowd won 10 of 15 draws; Nicklas Backstrom won seven of eight.

-- John Carlson led the club in total ice time (22:45); Dmitry Orlov led in even strength ice time (19:29); Zdeno Chara led in shorthanded ice time (3:43).

-- In the Caps’ last 22 games, they have four shutouts and held opponents to one goal six times.

-- With the shutout, Vitek Vanecek held an opponent to one or fewer goals for the fourth time in his last seven appearances.  He is 4-3-0, 2.28, .923 with one shutout over that stretch.

In the end…

Fans in the stands, even with limited attendance, might have made a difference for the Caps, who seemed to treat this like a playoff game.  For the Islanders, it was perhaps their last gasp as a contender for the top spot in the East, and they now find themselves just one point ahead of Boston for fourth place in the division with the Bruins holding a game in hand.  For the Caps, attention now turns to their closest pursuers, the Penguins, who visit for a pair of games later this week.  It looks like playoffs are starting early in the tight East Division.



Monday, April 26, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Capitals vs. Islanders, The Game 3 Re-Rematch

The Washington Capitals wrap up their three-game set with the New York Islanders on Tuesday night with a chance to sweep the series and put a dagger into any hopes the Isles might have for winning the East Division.  And, they will have that chance at home, playing in front of their fans (albeit with limited attendance) for the first time this season. So, where are we as the series wraps up, and the new week begins?

  • It has been a while since the Caps woke up looking up at a team ahead of them in the East Division standings, but that was the case on Monday morning, when the Pittsburgh Penguins occupied the top spot in the East.  The Caps had occupied the top spot in the East every day since April 8th, when the Islanders held the top spot.
  • The Islanders have six wins in regulation on the road this season.  None of them have come against a team currently eligible for the postseason (two wins against the New York Rangers, two against the Buffalo Sabres, and two against the New Jersey Devils).
  • The Caps might want to tighten up their defense on home ice.  They have allowed three or more goals in five of their last seven games at Capital One Arena, posting a 4-3-0 record.  And only one of those seven games was played against a current playoff-eligible team (4-2 loss to Boston on April 8th).
  • When the Caps beat the Islanders, 6-3, on Saturday night, it was their 14th game this season with five or more goals scored.  That is tied for second-most in the league (with Pittsburgh), trailing only the Vegas Golden Knights (17).
  • The Caps have had considerable support on offense against the Islanders so far this season.  Among the top-ten point getters through seven games are: Justin Schultz (five points in five games), Daniel Sprong (five points in six games), Brenden Dillon (four points in seven games), Garnet Hathaway (three points in seven games), and Conor Sheary (three points in seven games).
  • Sprong and John Carlson are tied for the team lead in goals against the Islanders this season (four apiece).  Carlson also leads in power play goals with two.
  • Nicklas Backstrom has points on each of the six power play goals scored by the Caps against the Islanders so far this season (1-5-6).
  • Ilya Samsonov has had an odd season in goal against the Islanders.  He is 3-1-0, 2.63, .896, with one shutout in four appearances, but he has been either very, very good, or very, very not so good.  He has had two games with save percentages of .955 or higher and two others with save percentages of .875 or lower.
  • Of the 25 skaters to dress for the Caps against the Islanders this season, 22 have at least one point.  The three without one are Jonas Siegenthaler (since departed), Michael Raffl (just got here), and Dmitry Orlov (0-0-0 in five games).
  • When the Caps shutout the Islanders, 1-0 in a Gimmick, last Thursday, it marked the first Capitals shutout of the Islanders in more than 18 years, not since February 7, 2003, when the Caps beat the Isles, 3-0, in Washington.  It was the first shutout of the Islanders on Long Island since April 13, 1998, when the Caps beat New York, 2-0.  Olaf Kolzig authored both shutouts.
  • While the Caps have the third-best road record in the league, by points percentage, they could stand to improve their record at home, where their 14-6-2 record is 12th in the league in points earned and ninth in points percentage (.682).  Starting with Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, six of the Caps’ last eight games are on home ice.

In the end…

The Caps are in chase mode for the moment, one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins with a game in hand.  Both teams play on Tuesday night, the Caps ending their season series against the Islanders and the Penguins ending their season series against the Boston Bruins.  With the Islanders fading a bit in the stretch, and the Bruins six points behind the Caps, the East seems to be coming down to a two-team race for the top spot.  But to keep the pressure on Pittsburgh, the Caps need to make it three-for-three against as annoying a team to play as there is in the league.  

Photo: Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 15

All things considered, Week 15 was a good week for the Washington Capitals.  They finished the week with a 2-1-0 record, completing a 3-1-0 road trip.  The winning week allowed the Caps to finish the week with the barest of leads in the East Division, setting up a wild rush to the finish for themselves and their closest pursuers.


Record: 2-1-0

The consistency of the Caps continues.  The winning week in Week 15 leaves the Caps with 10 winning weeks for the season, three breakeven weeks, and two losing weeks, none since Week 5.  The Caps got off to a slow start on the week with a 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, but they wrapped it up in fine fashion by taking the first two games of a three-game set with the New York Islanders.  The 2-1-0 record on the road for the week left the Caps with a 7-2-0 record in their last nine road games and the best road record in the league at week’s end (17-7-2).

Offense: 3.00/game (season: 3.48 / 2nd)

It was an up-an-down week for the Caps’ offense, ending the week with a no-goal and six-goal performance after splitting that difference in the opening game of the week.  But averaging three goals per game against teams that finished the week ranked second (the Islanders) and sixth (the Bruins) in scoring defense is hardly a lackluster performance.  Couple that with the Caps posting six goals on the Islanders with Alex Ovechkin sidelined by a lower-body injury, and it could be considered a good week.

T.J. Oshie led the Caps with three goals in three games, two of them in the loss to Boston to open the week and the other in the Caps’ 6-3 win over the Islanders to finish it.  His week gave Oshie ten goals in his last 15 games, raising his total to 17 for the season, now second on the team behind Ovechkin (24).  Daniel Sprong was the other multiple goal scorer for the week, getting both of his tallies in the 6-3 win over New York on Saturday night.  Sprong now has nine goals in 35 games and is shooting an impressive 16.1 percent for the season. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with four points in the three-game week (1-3-4).  He is quietly putting together an impressive close to the season.  After going 2-4-6, minus-2, in his first 14 games this season, he is 7-15-22, plus-9, in his last 24 games.  T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom had three points apiece for the week, Oshie recording his entirely with goals, Backstrom recording his with assists.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 2.96 / 18th)

The defense was the mirror image of the offense in Week 15, opening the week with the worst of the three game before following it up with one of their best games of the season and settling in for an odd performance in the last game of the week. 

The Caps held the Bruins to 27 shots (they added an empty netter late for a total of 28), well below their 32.8 shots per game average that ranked third in the league at week’s end.  They also held Boston to just 28 shot attempts at 5-on-5 (19 on net), the second fewest attempts at fives recorded by Boston in any game this season.

The Caps did not allow the Islanders much more in their first meeting of the week.  The Caps gave up only 26 shots to the Islanders in 65 minutes of play, 24 at 5-on-5, and only 34 shot attempts at fives, fifth-fewest in 24 games (to that point) on home ice this season for the New Yorkers.

That brings us to the somewhat odd finish to the week for the Caps’ defense.  The 6-3 win and the three goals allowed might give the impression that the defense faltered a bit (and it did, but we will get to that below).  However, the Caps did allow only 24 shots on goal and were impressive in 5-on-5 defense.  While they did allow 40 shot attempts at fives, the highest total for the week, it was something of a product of higher tempo.  The Caps did finish that game with a plus-14 in 5-on-5 shot attempts, their best differential for the week.  And, they allowed no goals at 5-on-5, always a plus.

Goaltending: 2.61 / .896 / one shutout (season: 2.73 / .905 / 3 shutouts)

The goaltending for Week 15 looks a bit odd.  There is the goals against average, which is decent, but then there is the overall save percentage, which is not.  There was the even strength save percentage, which was very good (.938) but not quite as good on an individual level.  Let us get to that first.  Ilya Samsonov had a very good week in that regard.  He stopped all 45 shots he faced at even strength.  No goalie for the week faced more shots at evens and stopped all of them.  On the other hand, Samsonov stopped two of four shots he faced on opponents’ power plays, that .500 save percentage tied for 51st among 59 goalies dressing in Week 15.  And, he allowed a goal on the only shot he faced with the Caps on a power play.  Still, a 2-0-0, 1.44, .940 week with one shutout is an excellent week.

Vitek Vanecek was not as fortunate.  He got the first game of the week and struggled.  He made only 15 saves on 20 shots through two periods against Boston in a 6-3 loss (Boston’s last goal was an empty netter) and finished 22-for-27 (.815 save percentage) for the week.  After a fine four-game stretch over which he stopped 124 of 130 shots (.954) and going 3-1-0, he finished Week 15 with lesser performances in his most recent two outings – losses to Buffalo and Boston – stopping only 39 of 48 shots (.813 save percentage).  He has been up and down over the last two months, posting a four game run with a .928 save percentage, following that up with a pair of games at .837, another pair at .982, and three games at .847, before his last up and down cycle noted above.

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season: 26.7 percent / 2nd)

The power play in Week 15 was not good, not bad, not memorable.  What it did do was suffer in comparison with the 47.1 percent effort in Week 14.  Still, the Caps did reach 20 percent for the week against teams that finished the week second in the league in penalty killing (Boston) and seventh (New York).  But there is a problem here – shorthanded goals.  The Caps allowed two in three games this week, one to Boston to open the week and one to the Islanders to close it – and that makes three shorties allowed in the Caps last five games and five in their last 14 games.  No team has allowed more shorthanded goals this season than the Caps (eight).

And the power play itself deteriorated over the course of the week.  The Caps were 2-for-6 against Boston, 0-for-3 in the first game against the Islanders, and 0-for-1 in the second game against New York.  Efficiency and chances dropped like a stone, leaving the Caps 2-for-10 with only 12 shots on goal in 18:01 of power play ice time.

Penalty Killing: 5-for-7 / 71.4 percent (season: 82.5 percent / 8th)

The best to be said for the penalty killing is that the Caps did not have to employ it much.  The 2.33 shorthanded situations faced per game were tied for eighth-fewest in the league for the week, and the incidences were balanced – three power plays for Boston, two for the Islanders in each of their two meetings for the week.  The trouble was how the week ended, the Caps allowing power play goals to New York on each of their power play chances on each of the two shots they took, and the Islanders expending only 1:03 in power play time to inflict the two-goal damage.  It was quite a blot on a week that started with the Caps allowing only five power play shots in 13 minutes of shorthanded ice time.

Faceoffs: 72-for-151 / 47.7 percent (season: 48.8 percent / 23rd)

It was an average week in the faceoff circle, by Caps’ standards for the season, which is to say not impressive.  And again, it was inconsistent.  Washington was underwater in the offensive zone for the week (46.0 percent) but very good in the defensive end (54.0 percent), although the difference between one and the other is four wins on 50 draws in each end, not a large margin.

The offensive-defensive zone disparity, such as it was, was reflected at the individual level.  The “offensive” centers had a difficult week in the offensive end, with Nicklas Backstrom finishing at 36.4 percent (4-for-11) and Evgeny Kuznetsov finishing at 37.5 percent (6-for-16).  At the other end, the “defensive” centers did better, Lars Eller at 53.3 percent (8-for-15) and Nic Dowd at 55.6 percent (15-for-27).  Dowd and Eller have put together decent seasons in the circle, ranking in the top third of 132 skaters taking at least 250 draws.  Dowd ranks 25th (55.1 percent), and Eller ranks 43rd (52.5 percent).

Goals by Period:

The unusual part about Week 15 in this category for the Caps is that it was the second periods of games in which they ended with a minus goal differential.  This has been the Caps’ best period this season (plus-24 goal differential coming into the week), but they were a minus-1 this week.  They still ended the week with the most second period goals scored for the season (70).  The Caps did a good job holding things down late, which also goes against the season trend, allowing only an empty-net goal in the third period against Boston for the week. 


This year’s edition of the Caps is holding its ground with last year’s on a year-over-year basis.  Only one win and three points separate the two editions, and the scoring for and against is almost identical.  This year’s club still trails significantly in shots on goal and shot attempts for, but the flip side of that is more scoring efficiency with the shots/attempts they do record.  The Caps of this season are also substantially more protective of the puck, at least by the judgmental category of giveaways, where the Caps are down more than 30 percent this year over last season.  The discipline extends to penalties, where the Caps are down 17.3 percent in penalties taken and 19.6 percent in penalty minutes.

In the end…

The Caps keep on churning out winning weeks, or at the least avoiding losing weeks.  That consistency has allowed them to hold the top spot in the East in almost unbroken fashion (save for April 8th, when the Islanders held it, and a few hours yesterday, when Pittsburgh held it) for the last month.  The two wins against the Islanders were arguably more important to the Caps than the loss to Boston since it gave the Caps a three-point lead on the Isles, a 25-21 edge in regulation wins, and a 28-25 advantage in regulation-plus-overtime wins.  Add in that the Caps have clinched the season series against New York (they are 5-2-0 with one game left to play), and the Isles are in a bind if it comes to tiebreakers.

But now, Pittsburgh awaits in Week 16 after the Caps wrap up their season series with the Isles on Tuesday.  If the Caps can do to the Pens what they did to the Isles in Week 15, they will tighten their grip on that top spot in the East.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-3-4, minus-2, game-deciding Gimmick goal, no giveaways, 5.46 points per 60 minutes (second best on team))
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (3-0-3, minus-2, seven shots on goal, seven shot attempts, four takeaways (led team), 63.1 personal shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 (second best on team))
  • Third Star: Ilya Samsonov (2-0-0, 1.44, .940, third career shutout, 1.000 even strength save percentage (tied for league lead))

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Capitals vs. Islanders, The Game 2 Rematch

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

With one game of the three-game set between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders in the books, the Caps winning by a 1-0 margin in the Gimmick, we have a day off to take stock and see where we are for the moment…

  • As we wake up on Friday morning, it is now the Pittsburgh Penguins on the Caps’ bumper in the NASCAR MassMutual East Division 56-game season.  The Caps hold a one-point lead on the Pens.  Both have played 47 games, and both have 30 wins, but the Caps have one more point earned in extra time losses, while the Pens have one more regulation loss.  The Caps currently hold the edge in the regulation win tie-breaker and are tied in regulation/overtime wins.  If the Pens were any closer, they’d be in the passenger seat of the Ted Leonis Racing/Peter Laviolette Driving Number 8 Car.
  • Semyon Varlamov has now denied the Caps a goal in regulation/overtime in his last 145:58, dating back to the Islanders’ 8-4 win on April 6th.  The shutouts in his last two appearances against the Caps are the first two blankings of the Caps he has in his career in 17 games against the team that drafted him.
  • Even if Varlamov does not get the start on Saturday, the Caps will not necessarily be getting a break. Ilya Sorokin is 12-4-1 in his rookie season.  He has a better goals against average than Varlamov (2.02 to 2.12) and trails Varlamov only slightly in save percentage (.922 to .926).  He has three shutouts of his own in 17 starts, while Varlamov has five shutouts in 30 starts this season. 
  • Neither goalie has allowed a shorthanded goal this season.  The Islanders are one of two teams yet to allow a shortie, the St. Louis Blues being the other.  In fact, in the Barry Trotz era, since he took over as head coach in 2018-2019, no team has allowed fewer shorthanded goals than New York (six, tied with the Vegas Golden Knights).
  • The double shutout is the third time in the post-2005-2006 lockout era that the Caps and their opponent went to a Gimmick after 65 minutes of scoreless hockey.  The did so on December 27, 2017 in a loss to the New York Rangers, when they were beaten in the freestyle competition by the MZ boys – Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad (the game-winner).  The also lost to the Tampa Bay Lighting in what was the season finale of the 2013-2014 season, the only one in the last 13 that the Caps missed the playoffs.  Matt Carle got the only goal of the special session.
  • The Caps did not add a regulation loss to the Isles’ sparkling home record this season 19-2-3, but they did pin one of the three extra time losses on the Isles at Nassau Coliseum.  Pittsburgh has the other Gimmick win on Islander ice.
  • The Caps are getting better at generating power play chances on the Islanders’ ice sheet, but that’s a relative thing.  They had one opportunity with the man advantage in their first game in New York this season (and scored their only power play goal) on April 1st, two in their next meeting on April 6th, and three on Thursday night. 
  • Lars Eller has had his struggles against the Islanders, scoring wise.  He has one goal in his last dozen appearances against New York with three assists. He has one goal in 12 games as a Capital at Nassau Coliseum.
  • The whole top-six forward group has been largely shut down by the Islanders in New York this season.  It is only three games, but T.J. Oshie is the only regular top-six forward with a goal at Nassau Coliseum this season.  Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznnetsov, and Jakub Vrana/Anthony Mantha…none in 15 man-games.
  • Ilya Samsonov was superb in the 1-0 Gimmick win over the Isles on Thursday night.  Even with only three appearances against New York this season, it still looks like a roller coaster fun ride.  He opened the season with a 21 save effort in a 3-1 win over New York on March 16th in Washington.  Samsonov followed that up by allowing six goals on 18 shots in 43:34 in the Caps’ 8-4 loss to the Isles in New York on April Fools’ Day.  And then there was Thursday night’s 26-save blanking, his third career shutout.  And that performance did allow Samsonov to drag his season save percentage against the Islanders over .900 (.903) and his overall save percentage over that threshold (from .898 to .904).
  • Vitek Vanecek might still be the pick for the Saturday rematch in the second game of this three-game set.  He has as good or better a record of the two Caps goalies against the Islanders this season.  Both he and Samsonov are 2-1-0 against the Islanders this season.  And although both of Vanecek’s wins were at home, he turned in one of his best performances of the season in New York when he allowed one goal on 39 shots in a 1-0 loss on April 6th.  His goals against average against New York is better than Samsonov’s (.929 to .903), as is his even strength save percentage (.931 to .910), and his goals against average is slightly better (2.47 to 2.50).  He does come into Saturday with only 39 saves on 48 shots (.813 save percentage) in consecutive losses to Buffalo and Boston in his last two appearances, his first bout with consecutive losses in regulation on his record since his first two games in February.

In the end…

The two losses the Caps suffered in New York at the hands of the Islanders before their win on Thursday were a bit of an anomaly.  They won five consecutive games on Long Island before suffering those consecutive losses, and they are 19-11-3 overall in the Ovechkin era in New York.  Look for win number 20 on Saturday.