The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals begin their 47th season of hockey on Wednesday night when they host the New York Rangers at Capital One Arena. The opener features two teams who could be battling all season for one of four playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division. And it will be a full season of 82 games, following two seasons abbreviated by COVID-19 issues.
The Caps are a mixture of stability and change, the former reflected in their core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, John Carlson, and Dmitry Orlov. The latter is reflected in an infusion of youth of the sort the Caps have not seen in a while, with forwards Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael, and defenseman Martin Fehervary likely to be in the Opening Night lineup. With Backstrom and (perhaps) Ovechkin out of the lineup with injuries, the light will shine a bit brighter on the youngsters to see if they can get off to fast starts to their NHL careers.
The Rangers are a team that seems to be pursuing development paths that are more in conflict than complimentary. The Blueshirts have a skilled group of forwards in Mika Zibnanejad, Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere. On defense they have the defending Norris Trophy winner in Adam Fox and an up-and-comer in K’Andre Miller. It is a group that could make the life of a goaltender difficult. But on the other hand, and perhaps with the Caps’ Tom Wilson in mind, the Rangers are trying to plug in a physical component that seems less skilled and more inclined to keeping order and preventing teams from taking liberties with their more skilled players. Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Patrik Nemeth, and Jarred Tinordi would seem to be among the group to play that role.The Rangers dressed nine rookie skaters last season among the 30 to appear in at least one game. Four of them appeared in at least 20 games (Lafreniere, Miller, Julien Gauthier, and Vitali Kravtsov).
2. Panarin posed 17 goals last season in 42 games; it was the first season in a six year career that he did not record at least 20 goals.
3. The Rangers were shut out seven times last season. Only Buffalo was blanked more often (nine times).
4. New York was the worst team in the league in faceoffs last season (44.5 percent). None of the seven players taking at least 50 draws hit the 50 percent win mark.
5. Ryan Reaves (who is listed as day-to-day with an injury), Barclay Goodrow, and Jarred Tinordi have a combined total of 111 regular season and postseason fights on their resumes (hockeyfights.com). Think the Rangers are going to try to make a point?The Caps were 26-2-0 last season when leading after two periods, the fourth-best winning percentage (.929) since 2005-2006.
2. Washington averaged 12.05 blocked shots per 60 minutes last season, their lowest total of the “Rock the Red” era (since 2005-2006).
3. The Caps were stingy with the puck last year, averaging 7.18 giveaways per 60 minutes, second-lowest since 2005-2006.
4. Washington took 3.63 penalties per 60 minutes last season, lowest in team history.
5. On the other hand the Caps drew 3.42 penalties per 60 minutes last season, also lowest in team history.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Igor Shesterkin
Russian goaltenders seem to be all the rage at the position in the NHL these days. Eleven goalies from Russia dressed for at least one game last season, and four of them posted save percentages over .915 while appearing in more than 20 games. Igor Shesterkin was one of two rookie goalies in that group (Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders was the other). Shesterkin posted a record of 16-14-3 (tied for third among all rookie goaltenders in wins), 2.62, .916, with two shutouts in 35 games, good numbers for a team that is still in a rebuilding phase. He is widely viewed as the key to the Rangers’ playoff hopes, called “the next guy” in some quarters following Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy as a top tier goaltender. Among the things he needs to do to reach that lofty perch is avoid injury, which has been a feature of his two seasons in the league. He missed ten games to a strained groin last season and nine games the previous season to rib and ankle injuries. He could also improve his consistency. Of his 35 appearances last season, he posted nine .950-plus save percentages (two of them in abbreviated minutes), but he also had 12 games with save percentages under .900, only one of which he won, posting a 1-10-1 record in those games. Shesterkin is 3-1-0, 2.53, .924 in four career appearances against the Caps.
Washington: Ilya Samsonov
The Caps will likely start the season with both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the shelf with injuries. They will be breaking in a few rookies and have swapped out veteran defensemen Zdeno Chara and Brenden Dillion for Martin Fehervary and Matt Irwin, with Trevor van Riemsdyk perhaps getting a larger role than he played last season. And as if the changes do not put enough pressure on a young goalie with only 45 games of regular season work on his resume, he has to prove that he has developed the maturity and consistency to play the position that he seemed to lack last season. Having played no more than 37 games in a regular season as a pro, either in Russia or in North America, Samsonov is also going to have to show that he can endure the grind of a long season getting, under ideal circumstances for a number one goalie, 65-75 percent of the starts. This is an especially important consideration when you look at his record last year. After posting a 24-save shutout of the New Jersey Devils on March 26th, he finished the season 6-3-0, but with a save percentage of 886 and a goals against average of 3.20. Four of those six wins came in games in which his save percentage was under .900, suggesting he was more a passenger than the rock in goal. Samsonov is 1-1-1, 4.07, .855 in three career appearances against the Rangers.
In the end…
The subplot for this game will be how the Rangers new “tough” part of their lineup will deal with the Caps and Tom Wilson after the brawlapalooza and the “revenge game” in New York last season. But these two teams could very well spend the season looking at one another for the last playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, which places a premium on tending to the business of hockey for this game. Even though the Caps likely will take the ice with their two best forwards on the bench, the team that can play a disciplined game within the rules, even if they do so with a physical edge, is likely to come out of this with an Opening Night win.
Capitals 4 – Rangers 3