The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals have spent a lot of time on the road lately, seven of their last eight games. That road-heavy schedule wraps up when the Caps visit Buffalo on Monday night to face the Sabres at KeyBank Center. The Caps carry with them a four-game winning streak into this game and seven wins in their last eight road games.
Buffalo is dropping like a stone in the standings, losers of ten in a row (0-8-2) and owners of the worst record in the league over that span. There is no mystery to the Sabres’ misfortune. They could not score over those ten games (1.70 goals per game, worst in the league over that period), and they could not keep other teams from scoring (4.00 goals allowed per game, 28th in the league). They cannot generate shots (24.0 per game, second worst in the league), and they have trouble keeping opponents off the shot meter (33.4 shots allowed per game, sixth-most in the league).
Sam Reinhart has not been the problem, at least on the offensive side of the puck. He leads the team over the ten-game losing streak with five goals (almost a third of the 17-goal total for the team) and six points. The goal rush for Reinhart has put him on a pace for his best goals-per-game mark (0.46 goals per game) of his seven-year career. Unfortunately for Reinhart and his teammates, his goal scoring over this streak and overall for the season just has not mattered. The Sabres lost all four games on this streak in which he had at least one goal (he had two in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Philadelphia on March 9th), and the Sabres are just 2-3-3 in the eight games in which he scored a goal this season. The frustration in the relationship of Reinhart’s goal scoring and team success extends to ice time. In 16 games in which Reinhart skated at least 18:42, the Sabres are 1-11-4 (he was 6-5-11 in those games), while they are 4-4-0 in games in which he skated fewer minutes.
Part of the problem is that so much happens at the other end when Reinhart is on the ice. He is minus-6 in the ten-game losing streak, and his minus-16 for the season is tied for third worst in the league through Saturday’s games. He has been on ice for 28 even strength goals against, tied for fifth-most among forwards in the league. Reinhart is 5-7-12, minus-8, in 19 career games against Washington.
If there is a player having a worse ten games than Taylor Hall, he would be hard to find. Over the ten-game losing streak for Buffalo, Hall is second on the team in points to Reinhart (five), but he has one goal on 24 shots (4.2 percent, seventh-worst among 92 forwards with at least 20 shots over that span). No forward has been on ice for more even-strength goals against (32), and his even strength goal differential (minus-9) is tied for worst in the league among forwards over the period (with two teammates – Dylan Cozens and Eric Staal).
It is part of an especially frustrating year for Hall, who has one goal scored over his last 25 games since opening his season with a goal against the Caps in the Sabres’ season opener, the only goal he has on home ice this season in 13 home games. Hall has been another of those players who the Sabres hope can be productive with more ice time but has not. In 16 games in which he logged at least 18:30 in ice time, the Sabres are 2-11-3, while they are 4-5-1 in the ten games in which he logged less ice time. For a player in a walk-year contract (one year/$8.0 million), the focus has turned away from re-upping him as a Sabre to where he might land as a late-season rental. In 19 career games against the Caps, Hall is 4-7-11, minus-4.
The ten-game losing streak for the Sabres began on February 25th. That date corresponded with a lower-body injury to goaltender Linus Ullmark that took him out of the game after one period and out of the lineup since. With Ullmark out for some time to come, much of the goaltending duty has fallen to Carter Hutton. It has not gone well. In five games, including his relief of Hutton in that February 25th game against New Jersey, Hutton is 0-4-1, 3.45, .889. That save percentage is second-worst among 43 goalies logging at least 200 minutes over that period.
Not that Jonas Johansson has been any better. He is also 0-4-1 over the ten-game losing streak with a 3.96 goals against average and the worst save percentage of goalies with at least 200 minutes over that period (.883). It is part of a frustrating season for the second-year goalie, who is looking for his first win of the season and only his second career win. He has allowed four or more goals in each of his last four appearances. Hutton is 3-4-2, 3.39, .881 in ten career games against Washington, while Johansson has yet to face the Caps in his career to date.
The Sabres are working on a two-fer no team wants. Over their last ten games, they have allowed the most goals in the league at 5-on-5 (31) and the most goals at 6-on-5 (four).
2. Buffalo has been particularly vulnerable in the second periods of games lately. Over their ten-game losing streak, they allowed 20 goals, by far most in the league (Anaheim and Ottawa: 15).
3. The Sabres have led only twice after two periods on their ten-game losing streak; they lost both games in extra time, the only team with two losses of any kind when leading after two periods over that span.
4. Buffalo outshot a team only once in their losing streak, a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on March 2nd.
5. The Sabres have allowed the most 5-on-5 shot attempts in the league over the losing streak (459).Since February 16th, the Caps are tied with the New York Islanders for the best record in the league (11-2-1).
2. Over those 14 games, the Caps have the most goals scored in the second periods of games (18).
3. The Caps are one of nine teams with perfect record leading after one period over that span, but they have the most wins in that group (6-0-0).
4. Washington has been credited with the most takeaways in the league over that 14-game span (112).
5. The Caps are tied for best winning percentage in one-goal games over that same span of 14 games (.833/5-0-1) with Edmonton (.833/5-1-0).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Buffalo: Jeff Skinner
If there is a worse contract in the National Hockey League than Jeff Skinner’s, it is part of a very short list. Skinner is in the second year of an eight-year/$72.0 million deal with the Sabres. And for the princely sum of $9.0 million this season, the Sabres have one goal and one assist, with a minus-8 chaser to show for it. His 2.2 shooting percentage (one goal on 45 shots) is seventh-worst in the league among forwards with at least 20 shots on goal (the six below him are at 0.0 percent). He does not have a power play point this season (in fact, does not have a power play goal over last season and this one). He is averaging only 13:41 in ice time per game, the lowest of his career by more than two full minutes per game (16:03 with Carolina in 2015-2016). He is the only Sabre to have played more than two home games without scoring a point. He has 0.21 goals per 60 minutes (ninth on the team), 0.21 assists per 60 minutes (13th on the club), and 0.42 points per 60 minutes (15th on the team).
He was a healthy scratch for three straight games in late February, but it has not made a dent in his slump. Skinner is 1-0-1, minus-6 in nine games since his benching, averaging just 13:51 per game in ice time. The Sabres might like to get out from under his contact, given they are $411,000 under the salary cap after long-term injured reserve relief (source: capfriendly.com). That will prove hard to do, given the remaining term on his contract and poor production. Skinner is 12-15, 27, minus-4, in 47 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Daniel Sprong
Two players in the NHL have played in at least 15 games and are averaging more than two goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. Auston Matthews is not one of them. Neither is David Pastrnak. And no, not Alex Ovechkin, either. Philadelphia’s Joel Farabee is one (2.12 goals per 60 minutes at fives), and the Caps’ Daniel Sprong is the other (2.03). He is doing this while averaging only 9:25 in even strength ice time per game, lowest among Caps to appear in ten or more games. He has accelerated his contributions of late. He was 1-1-2, minus-2, over his first seven games of the season, but he is 4-1-5, plus-5, over his last nine games and has a three-game points streak as the Caps head to Buffalo (2-1-3, plus-3). His ice time has ramped up as well. He skated less than ten minutes in seven of his first 12 games this season, averaging just 9:02 in ice time per game. But over his last four games he has not been under 11 minutes and has averaged 12:39 per game, including getting some top-six forward time of late. The five goals he does have in 16 games are more than Richard Panik (two) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (two) have combined for, and his shooting percentage (27.8) is best on the team. He has been on ice for only eight goals scored against at 5-on-5, fewest on the team among skaters appearing in more than five games. After a somewhat slow start, he is playing himself into a regular spot in the lineup. Sprong will be looking for his first career point against the Sabres and to improve his minus-4 rating in five career games against Buffalo.
In the end…
The game against the Sabres to open the week is one of those potential “look-past” games. The Caps will return home after this game for a matchup with the East Division-leading New York Islanders the following night before hosting the New York Rangers in another back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday. And, if the Caps are not ready, it could be ugly. Their last four losses in regulation have been by three or more goals. This puts a premium on getting off to a good start to prevent the home team, one battling injuries as well as poor recent play, from feeling good about themselves.
Capitals 5 – Sabres 2