Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 28: Capitals at Sabres, March 15

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.

1.  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).

1.  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:  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


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 9

Week 9 was quite the week for the Washington Capitals.  Tom Wilson’s suspension, Lars Eller’s absence, then his return, then his injury, a Nick Jensen two-fer (a goal, a two-point game), an offensive explosion, a (near) defensive collapse, and that is before we get to the…

Record: 4-0-0

A 4-0-0 record is great on its own, but how they got it (or rather, against whom they built it) was especially satisfying.  The Caps’ 4-0-0 week was their first four-win week since Week 26 of the 2018-2019 season when they also went 4-0-0.  Three of those wins in Week 9 came against the Philadelphia Flyers, all of them in Philadelphia.  It was the first time they won three straight against the Flyers in a single season since 2018-2019, when they swept the four-game series against Philadelphia, and it was the first time they won three straight in Philadelphia since they swept all four games visiting the Flyers in 1993-1994.

 Offense: 4.50/game (season: 3.41 / 5th)

If Week 8’s adjective of “anemic” could be applied to the Caps’ offense, the adjective for Week 9 might be “explosive.”  The 4.50 goals per game were tied for second in the league for the week, with the Detroit Red Wings, trailing only the New York Islanders (5.00).  After opening the week with three goals against the Flyers, the Caps scored five goals in three straight games, the first time the Caps scored that many in three consecutive games since Games 9-11 last season when they posted five against the New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Calgary Flames.

The Caps’ leading goal scorers for the week came from opposite ends of the forward spectrum, top left wing Alex Ovechkin and fourth line center Nic Dowd each with three.  Six Caps in all had multi-goal weeks with Jakub Vrana, Dmitry Orlov, Daniel Sprong, and Nick Jensen adding a pair apiece.  For Jensen, his goal against the Flyers to close the scoring in the Caps’ 3-1 win to open the week was his first goal as a Capital and broke a personal streak of 165 games without one, his most recent goal before that coming as part of a two-goal effort in a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 11, 2018.  All in all, ten of the 19 Caps to dress for the week recorded goals.

Vrana and John Carlson led the club with five points apiece for the week.  It was an odd pairing of leading scorers.  It was not a matter of matching the skilled to the unskilled species of scorers, both are skilled in that area.  The difference was that while Carlson earned his points while posting the most ice time for the week (22:24 minutes per game), Vrana did it while averaging just 12:22 per game, third lowest among forwards (and that includes Lars Eller, who skated only three shifts and 1:29 in the Saturday win over the Flyers before leaving with an injury).

What was especially encouraging for the Caps was getting offense from five of the seven defensemen to dress – three defensemen had goals (Jensen (2), Orlov (2), and Carlson), while Zdeno Chara had two assists and Justin Schultz one.

Defense: 3.00/game (season: 3.15 / 20th)

The Caps scoring defense for the year dropped in Week 9, and yet it was not a good week.  In each of the last three games of the week they got out to three-goal leads only to give one back before winning in overtime (a 5-4 win over New Jersey in the second game of the week) and twice barely holding off the Flyers before hanging on for wins.  The odd part of it was that 11 of the 19 skaters to dress this week had positive goal differentials at even strength, and no Capital was worse than a minus-2. However, 15 of those 19 skaters were on ice for at least two even strength goals against over the four games, six of them on ice for four or more goals (Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie were on ice for five against and were two of those Caps with minus goal differentials).

On the good side, three Caps were on ice for no goals scored against at even strength – the fourth forward line that had a very good week.  Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway were both a plus-5 in even strength goal differential (five for, none against), and Carl Hagelin was plus-4 (four for, none against).

Goaltending: 2.99 / .901 (season: 2.89 / .901)

If Week 9 was a bad week for defense, perhaps a heaping helping of the bitter brew could be laid at the feet of the goaltenders.  It was a week of deterioration for Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek generally, with the save percentages dropping period by period over the course of the week -- .952 in the first periods of games, .919 in the middle periods, and .870 in the third periods of games.

Ilya Samsonov got the biggest share of work for the week, getting all three starts against Philadelphia.  He had a mixed week.  On the one hand, he won all three games, the first three decisions he has posted against the Flyers in his brief career to date.  On the other hand, while his save percentage for the week was quite good (.922), the third periods of games (.895) were quite a drop off from the first two periods of games (first period: .939; second period: .935).  The third periods of the last two games was of the sort one might want to turn away from seeing (.826), and he did it while facing only 23 shots over those 40 minutes worth of third periods (19 saves on 23 shots).

Vitek Vanecek got the other start for the week, facing the New Jersey Devils.  Despite the one appearance, he was not immune to a late-game collapse in save percentage.  He stopped all nine shots he faced in the first period against the Devils, and he allowed only one goal on six shot in the middle period, but the third period was not for the scrapbook.  Vanecek allowed three goals on 16 shots faced in the third period to allow the Devils to force overtime.  The Caps scored before Vanecek faced a shot in the extra session to enable him to put a mark in the win column. 

Neither goalie really took the number one job by the throat, but after as many games as Samsonov has missed before this week, Week 9 was a matter of seeing just how much progress he has made in trying to recapture the number one spot.

Power Play: 2-for-7 / 28.6 percent (season: 26.9 percent / 6th)

The number that leaps off the page in this category is “seven.”  No team playing four games had as few powerplay chances for the week as the Caps, an only two teams that played three games apiece had fewer (Columbus and Toronto each had six chances in three games).  The Caps ended the week having had the fewest power play chances in the league (67), giving the league’s sixth-most efficient power play few chances to take advantage of their overall efficiency.

But about that “overall” efficiency.  In three road games this week, all in Philadelphia, the Caps were 1-for-5.  That 20.0 percent was not particularly impressive on its own, but given that it raised the Caps’ road power play to 11.1 percent for the season (28th in the league), it was a considerable improvement, even with the single goal scored.

It was not as if the Caps were not getting shots from players they want getting them.  Of the 14 shots on goal with the man advantage, Alex Ovechkin had half of them (seven) and one of the team’s power play goals. Jakub Vrana had a pair, and five other Caps had one apiece, including T.J. Oshie, who had the team’s other power play goal for the week.

All told, the Caps had 14 shots on goal in 12:34 of power play ice time, not a bad shots per minute result, but it was a light week for power plays for the Caps, a lingering issue.

Penalty Killing: 10-for-12 / 83.3 percent (season: 81.4 percent / 11th)

The issue here was not efficiency, which was an improvement over the season penalty kill to date, but the fact that the Caps had almost twice as many shorthanded situations to defend as power play chances to enjoy.  That the Caps were as efficient as they were allowed them to keep the special teams goal differential at “even” for the week.

One problem here was taking penalties late in games.  Six of the 16 penalties the Caps took for the week (their total tied for second-most in the league for the week and their net penalties taken tied for fourth-worst for the week) occurred in the third periods of games.

It was a mixed week, though, split into two discrete halves.  In the first two games, Samsonov and Vanecek stopped all seven power plays they faced and all eight shots they faced in 12 minutes of shorthanded ice time.  In the last two games, though, Samsonov allowed two goals on five power plays, stopping five of seven shots in 7:10 of shorthanded ice time.  That will have to improve.

Faceoffs: 104-for-228 / 45.6 percent (season: 48.1 percent / 23rd)

The Caps fell back on old ways in Week 9, a mid-40’s winning percentage as a team on faceoffs.  It was worse in the particulars.  The Caps finished under 42 percent in each of the ends, managing a winning share over 50 percent in only neutral zone draws.  The Caps did face the third-best team in the league on draws in the Flyers three times, so an under-50 percent result might have been expected, especially on Flyer ice.  But under 50 percent against the second-worst team in the league in faceoffs in the Devils, on home ice, was a disappointment.

Nicklas Backstrom was the only one of five Caps taking at least ten draws to go over 50 percent for the week, and that was the difference between one faceoff won that, had it been lost, would have put Backstrom at 50 percent for the week.  No Capital taking more than one draw in the offensive or defensive end won as many as 50 percent of those faceoffs for the week. It was not a good week in the circle.

Goals by Period:

First periods…good (five goals for, two against).  Second periods…better (nine for, three against).  Third periods…not good (three for, seven against).  Worse, five of the seven goals allowed in the third periods of games came in the last ten minutes of regulation play.  It allowed the Devils to wipe out a 4-1 lead that the Caps took into the third period of their game and force overtime, got the Flyers to within a goal in their second game of the week before the Caps potted an empty netter in the last minute to clinch the win, and allowed the Flyers to close within a goal with under three minutes left in regulation of the last game of the week before the Caps hung on to win.  At week’s end the Caps had allowed 32 third period goals, tied for eighth-most in the league and with a minus-9 third period goal differential for the season, fourth-worst in the league.


A four-win week will enable a team to catch up in some areas on a year-over-year comparison.  For instance, the Caps are now just one win and three standings points behind last year’s fast-starting team.  Scoring is catching up, thanks to three straight five goal games to end the week, although last year’s team had nine games of five or more goals by the 27 game mark compared to seven for this year’s club.  This year’s power play is more efficient overall than last year’s, but they are doing it with significantly fewer chances (about two-thirds fewer chances per game).  In almost all other areas, however, the Caps still lag significantly.

In the end…

Let us repeat… “wins matter most.”  There no standings points awarded for expected goals or shot attempt differential at fives or prettiest uniforms.  And once earned, standing points cannot be taken away.  Nevertheless, there were warning signs that the winning streak is not all it seems that those underlying trends give ominous hints that the streak is coming to an end.  A team cannot be as loose as the Caps were in Week 9 in third periods and sustain any consistent level of success.

The Caps will have a chance to remedy this situation in Week 10 with three of four games on the slate against what might be viewed as weaker teams – at Buffalo and twice in New York against the Rangers.  And, there is a chance to take a bite out of the division-leading New York Islanders at home.  As the Caps embark on the second half of the regular season schedule, it is time to button things up tighter over a full 60 minutes.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: John Carlson (1-4-5, plus-5, first Capital defenseman to record 500 points with the club, 14 shots on goal, six blocked shots (led team), 20 shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Jakub Vrana (2-3-5, plus-2, six shots on goal, one game-winning goal (overtime))
  • Third Star: Nic Dowd (3-0-3, plus-5, two game-winning goals, six shots on goal, second-best shooting percentage (50.0)
  • Honorable Mention: Daniel Sprong (2-1-3, plus-4, three shots on goal, best shooting percentage for the week (66.7))