Sunday, October 31, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 9: Capitals at Lightning: November 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals hit the road to start the new month, visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Monday night.  The Caps have had few chances to display their skills on the road so far this season, going 2-0-0 with wins in New Jersey and Ottawa against the Devils and Senators.  This will be a move up in weight class for the Caps, who will face a Lightning team looking to build on consecutive wins against Pittsburgh and Arizona.

While Capitals fans marvel at the performance of Alex Ovechkin at age 36, a renaissance of sorts might be going on in Tampa with Steven Stamkos.  The 14-year veteran is off to a hot start, going 5-7-12 in his first eight games (one of those goals an overtime game-winner against the Caps), posting a goal total already almost a third of his output last season (17 in 38 games). On the other hand, this start is reminiscent of last season when he went 4-6-10 in his first eight games.  But he missed 18 games to COVID protocol and lower body injuries.  This has been an issue in the latter two thirds of his career to date.  He missed only three games over his first five seasons in the league, playing in all scheduled games four times.  But then injuries derailed what seemed to be a monster career in the making.  Over his next four seasons he appeared in 468 of 618 scheduled regular season games (75.7 percent).  Stamkos is still third among active players in career goals scored (444), but one cannot help but think he would be well past 500 goals and perhaps past 1,000 points (he has 878) if not for the injury bug that has haunted much of his career.  Stamkos is 17-18-35, minus-19, in 38 career games against the Caps.

Alex Killorn is one of those dependable, consistent second-level scorers.  In eight full NHL seasons, he has never posted fewer than 14 goals and has a high of 26 with the Lightning in 2019-2020.  Last season he had 15 goals in 56 games, his best year in terms of goals per 60 minutes (1.3) and second-best in goals per game (0.27).  But he is eclipsing those metrics so far this season.  With a team-leading six goals in eight games, he is averaging 2.3 goals per 60 minutes and 0.75 goals per game, both career bests.  He will go into Monday night’s game on a four-game points streak (4-3-7, plus-4), which is already longer than any points streak he had last season.  His on-ice goal differential of plus-4 at even strength leads the Lightning so far, a product of his being on ice for a team high 12 even strength goals scored.  And, Killorn has displayed a knack for relieving opponents of the puck, his eight takeaways in eight games tops on the team.  Killorn is 8-3-11, minus-6, in 25 career games against Washington.

It has not been the best of starts for last year’s Vezina runner-up goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.  He is 4-2-1, but his underlying numbers are not especially impressive.  His 2.53 goals against average ranks 18th among 35 goalies who have logged at least 200 minutes so far.  His .911 save percentage ranks 20th in that group, while his .915 save percentage at even strength ranks 27th among 36 goalies appearing in at least four games.  What he has been is inconsistent in the early going.  In his seven appearances so far, he had two instances of a save percentage under .900, but he also has had three instances of a save percentage of .960 or better.  The good news for Lightning fans is that two of those instances came in his last two appearances, stopping 28 of 29 shots in a 5-1 win over Pittsburgh and 24 saves on 25 shots in a 5-1 win over Arizona.  Vasilevskiy is 5-6-1, 3.45, .903, in 12 career games against the Capitals.

1.  Tampa Bay is a surprising 1-2-1 on home ice so far, their lone win a 5-1 decision over the Arizona Coyotes in their last home contest.

2.  Only three teams have a worse scoring defense on home ice than the Lightning (3.50) – Arizona (5.00), Minnesota (4.33), and Chicago (4.25).

3.  Tampa Bay’s home power play ranks 29th in the league (7.1 percent).

4.  The Lightning are tied with Vegas for most third period goals allowed on home ice (nine).

5.  Tampa Bay has allowed six goals at 6-on-5 overall, most in the league and almost a quarter of the total goals they allowed so far (27).

1.  Washington is tied for second in the league with Carolina in goals scored at 5-on-5 (20), trailing only Florida (22).

2.  The Caps have outscored teams, 22-10, in the first 40 minutes of games this season. Their third period edge is just 8-6.

3.  Washington had outshot teams six times in eight games this season to a 4-0-2 record.

4.  The Capitals’ 1.23 net penalties per 60 minutes is third best in the league.

5.  Washington has been in three one-goal games this season, all settled in overtime, all of them losses.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Tampa Bay: Corey Perry

Six, five, nine, none.  Those are the goal totals for Corey Perry over the last three-plus seasons in a total of 145 games.  He also happens to have a minus-27 rating over the same period, and his ice time is under 14 minutes over those 145 games.  Is he done?  Well, he did go 4-6-10 in the postseason last year with Montreal, so perhaps he can still muster productive games in short bursts.  But one does have to wonder if thi8ngs are coming to and end for the former 50-goal scorer and Rocket Richard winner (which seems forever ago, in 2010-2011).  He has not been shy about shooting the puck in limited ice time – 18 shots in eight games – but he has failed to hit the back of the net thus far and has no points with a minus-5 rating in those eight games. He even seems to be less of the agitator he has been in the past.  He has one penalty this season a fighting major against Pittsburgh last Tuesday, and he has eight credited hits in eight games after posting 56 in 49 games last season and 1,001 in 13 seasons before this one.  Tampa Bay has not yet missed his offense to a significant extent, the Lightning still rank tenth in scoring offense, but it is not clear that Perry is going to be much of a contributor as the season wears on. 

Washington: Vitek Vanecek

Vanecek or Samsonov, Samsonov or Vanecek.  Vanecek has the better goals against average in five games played (2.26 to 2.43) and has the better save percentage (.911 to .904).  Vanecek has a much better save percentage at even strength (.934 to .919). the two are almost indistinguishable in terms of saves per 60 minutes (Ilya Samsonov has 25.4, Vanecek has 25.3).  As for Vanecek specifically he started well, stopping 70 of 74 shots in his first three games (.946), going 2-0-1.  But in his last two games he stopped just 32 of 38 shots (.842), was pulled after 20 minutes in one of them and is 0-0-1 (one no-decision, a game the Caps also lost in extra time).  He has had the comfort of low shot volumes in the four complete games on his ledger, facing no more than 26 shots in any of them.  But he did face 13 shots in the first period against Calgary when he allowed three goals and was relieved in favor of Samsonov.  The Caps have alternated starters in the last four games, suggesting Vanecek would get Monday’s call.  He took the overtime loss to Tampa in Game 2 of the season in Washington, stopping 22 of 24 shots in a 2-1 decision, in what is his only appearance to date against the Lightning in his career.

In the end…

Tamps Bay isn’t Tampa Bay just yet, although there are recent signs they could break out.  They have been uncharacteristically leaky on defense, which Washington might be able to exploit, in addition to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s strange troubles against the Caps in his career generally.  Expect a close game with some offensive fireworks.

Capitals 4 – Tampa Bay 3


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 3

Week 3 was, in a way, a rewind of Week 2 for the Washington Capitals.  The Caps repeated their 2-0-1 record for the week, displayed a potent offense (though not quite as productive as in Week 2), duplicated their scoring defense, and got iffy overall goaltending numbers for a second consecutive week.  As we noted last week, not perfect, but it was a rewarding week where it counted – wins and losses.

Record (2-0-1)

The Caps’ 2-0-1 record for the week made it three consecutive winning weeks and left the team with the same eight-game record they had to start last season (5-0-3).  A 2-0-1 record in Week 3 was less impressive than a 2-0-1 record in Week 2.  The week 2 record was a product of beating one of the elite teams in the league (Colorado Avalanche), an up-and-coming squad 9New Jersey Devils), and climbing out of an 0-3 hole against Calgary to earn a standings point before losing in overtime.  Compare that to Week 3, where the 2-0-1 record came against three struggling teams, one that the Caps should have buried early after racing out to a 4-1 first period lead, but allowed to get back in the game before wrapping up a wild 7-5 win (Ottawa Senators); taking an overtime loss to a rebuilding team after getting out to a 2-0 lead; and finally struggling against the woeful Arizona Coyotes – a winless team – before escaping with a 2-0 win.  The record was good, but the performance was hardly impressive. 

Offense: 3.67 / game (season: 3.75 / 5th)

It was a top-heavy week for scoring for the Caps.  Overall, they finished tied for seventh in the league in scoring offense for the week.  But of the 11 goals the Caps scored in three games, nine came from three players.  Alex Ovechkin led the team with four, giving him 739 in his career and closing to within two of Brett Hull for f9urth-place on the all-time NHL goal scoring list.  T.J. Oshie, who dressed for only two games this week and will be out “week-to-week” with a lower body injury, had three; and John Carlson had two.  Only two other Caps – Nick Jensen and Evgeny Kuznetsov – posted goals.  Thirteen Caps recorded points for the week, led by Ovechkin (five) and Oshie (four). 

Defense: 2.67 / game (season: 2.38 / T-7th)

The game against Ottawa to start the week was an aberration, the Caps allowing the Senators 37 shots on goal, the only instance in which the Caps allowed more than 30 shots on goal this season and ten more than the next highest shots allowed total (27 against Calgary and Colorado).  What was odd about that outcome, though, was that the Caps allowed Ottawa “only” 43 shot attempts at 5-on-5, the fourth highest total in eight games to date.

Nick Jensen continued his strong play.  He was not on ice for any even strength goals scored against the Caps for the week.  The surprise in this area, though, might be Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was on ice for only one even strength goal against.  At the other end, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha struggled, both on ice for five even strength goals against.

Goaltending: 2.66 / .897 (season: 2.34 / .908)

It was an odd week for the goaltenders.  Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek were like the little girl with the curl, “When she was good, she was very good indeed, but when she was bad she was horrid.”  Well, not quite horrid, but they could see it from where they were.  Samsonov started the week allowing five goals on 37 shots in a 7-5 win over Ottawa.  Although that result was unimpressive, Ottawa did most of its damage in a 5:19 span of the second period, when they scored three goals to tie the Caps, 4-4, after the Caps went out to a 4-1 first period lead.  Samsonov followed up that uneven performance with a solid 16-save shutout of the Arizona Coyotes to end the week.  Yes, Arizona has fits trying to score goals, but in the NHL a shutout is a shutout and qualifies as an achievement.  He finished the week with a .906 save percentage.  Vitek Vanecek was given the assignment of the middle game of the week against Detroit.  He was good early but faltered late, allowing two goals to complete a Red Wing comeback from an 0-2 deficit before they won in overtime on the only shot Vanecek faced.  He finished with a .880 save percentage for the week.

Overall, it was the second periods of games in which the goalies struggled.  They combined for a .862 save percentage in the middle frame while recording a .958 save percentage in first periods and a .917 save percentage in third periods.

Power Play: 3-for-11 / 27.3 percent (season: 19.4 percent / 19th).

The Caps failed on their only power play chance against Ottawa to start the week, but they came back to go 3-for-10 in the last two games of the week to make it a successful one on the power play.  It was a huge improvement over the 0-for-10 the Caps put in the books in Week 2.  What made it more encouraging was not just that Alex Ovechkin recorded a power play goal, but John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov had goals of their own.  These are players whose production with the man advantage can take some of the pressure off Ovechkin and keep opponents from swinging their defense into a shift into Ovechkin’s side of the ice.  Anthony Mantha had one power play assist for the week, but what with him averaging 2:54 in power play ice time per game, it would be good for him to get on the goal ledger, especially with T.J. Oshie out for what could be an extended period.  If there was another bright spot on the power play, it was no shorthanded goals allowed.  The Caps are still the only team in the league to allow two shorties this season.

Penalty Killing 7-for-8 / 87.5 percent (season: 77.3 percent / 2nd)

The Caps played to their opponents’ performance in Week 3.  They were 2-for-3 against Ottawa, who despite their record is one of the better power play teams in the league (sixth at week’s end).  They blanked Detroit (2-for-2) and Arizona (3-for-3), teams ranking in the lower half of the league rankings on the power play (Detroit finished the week 25th in the league, Arizona 31st).  It was the most efficient week for the penalty kill so far and a considerable improvement over the 5-for-8 (62.5 percent) effort the Caps had in Week 2.

Faceoffs: 72-for-169 / 42.6 percent ( 46.9 percent / 26th)

Well, we are back to the Caps struggling in the faceoff circle.  After a 53.3 percent win result in Week 2, the Caps lost more than ten points against that result in Week 3.  The best that can be said of the 42.6 percent week was that the Caps were worst in the neutral zone, going 39.7 percent.  They were 44.4 percent in the offensive zone and 43.8 percent in the defensive zone. 

No one for the Caps distinguished themselves in this category.  All five Caps taking at least ten draws finished under 50 percent.  Lars Eller was the only one of the five to finish over 50 percent in the offensive zone, while Evgeny Kuznetsov finished over 50 percent in the defensive and neutral zones.

Goals by Period

It was the Caps’ dominance in first periods in Week 3 that propelled them to their 2-0-1 record.  The Caps doubled their first period goal output for the season (10) with the five they posted for this week.  The flip side, though, was the Caps giving away leads or hanging on to hold opponents even, or close to it, in Week 3.  Even though they finished the week with the most second period goals (12) and had a plus-7 goal differential, the Caps were uncharacteristically leaky in the second periods this week, going minus-1 overall. 


The Caps have the same eight-game record as they had to start last season, 5-0-3.  They also have the same scoring offense (30 goals,3.75 goals per game).  It is on the defensive side where there has been improvement, year-to-year.  Shots are down, shot attempts allowed at 5-on-5 are down.  On special teams, the penalty kill has had the same slow start as last year, and the power play is down, although matching last season’s 7-for-17/41.2 percent start would be hard to match.

In the end…

There is something to be said for playing the right way, and over a long season, doing so is the only thing close to a guarantee of success.  The Caps have been fortunate so far in that their underlying numbers suggest they could do better in playing the “right” way, but they have been successful nevertheless.  The problem now is that the 5-0-3 record to date has been built largely against struggling or rebuilding teams.  That changes as we rip a page off the calendar and start November on the road against two very good teams from the Sunshine State.  It will be a challenging start to a month in which the Caps will play 15 games in 30 days with three back-to-backs.  They need to play on a sounder footing to make November a successful month.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, plus-2, 16 shots on goal, 27 shot attempts, 1-for-1 on faceoffs, one giveaway)
  • Second Star: John Carlson (2-1-3, plus-2, eight shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, one game-winning goal, 23:08 average ice time, five blocked shots (tied for team lead))
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-2-3, plus-1, six shots on goal, ten shot attempts)