Sunday, May 02, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Games 52/53: Capitals at Rangers, May 3/5

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals get started on their last full week of the regular season with a two-game set against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.  This two game-set will also close the books on the road portion of the Caps’ season.  The games will also wrap up the Ranger’s home slate of games for this season, where they go into the week with a 14-9-3 record, ranked 14th in points earned (31) and 15th in points percentage (.596) on home ice.

The success the Rangers have enjoyed at MSG this season is largely a product of a prolific offense that averages 3.50 goals per game (tied for fourth in the league).  That offense has been led by Artemi Panarin, who is 12-25-37, plus-12, on home ice, fourth in the league in points recorded on home ice so far this season.  Panarin has been little short of spectacular for the Rangers since his arrival last season.  His 151 points in 110 games overall rank fourth among all skaters over the past two seasons, and his 1.37 points per game ranks third.  And if playing in New York is a pressure cooker for pro athletes, Panarin has held up well.  His 87 points at the Garden over the last two seasons ranks third among all players in total scoring on home ice, and his 1.55 points per game ranks third as well.  Panarin has scored in bunches this season, posting 18 multi-point games, tied for fourth in the league.  He has 12 multi-point games on home ice, tied for second in the league and trailing only Connor McDavid (17). 

Panarin’s scoring matters, too.  He has been held without a point only 13 times in 41 games this season, and the Rangers are 2-9-2 in those games.  On the other side, the Rangers are 20-4-4 in the 28 games in which he recorded at least one point, and they have lost only one game in regulation in which he had a multi-point game (January 19th in a 4-3 loss to New Jersey). In 11 games from March 15th through April 25th, Panarin went 8-18-26, plus-15, but he is without a point in his last two contests, his first games going consecutive games without a point since February 8th/10th.  Panarin is 2-7-9, plus-4, in six games against the Caps this season and 10-14-24, plus-9, in 21 games in his career against Washington.

Mika Zibanejad has had a strange year playing in Madison Square Garden.  In his first 14 games on home ice this season, he went 1-3-4, minus-6.  And then a light went on. A red light.  Three times.  On St. Patrick’s Day, Zibanejad went 3-3-6, plus-5, in a 9-0 plastering of the Philadelphia Flyers.  In the dozen home games he played that started with that outburst, Zibanejad is 8-12-20, plus-8, with two hat tricks.  It might not be a coincidence that in those first 14 games at home, the Rangers went 5-6-3 but are 9-3-0 in the dozen game since then on home ice.  It might be a coincidence, either, that the Rangers were just 11-12-4 in their first 27 games overall in which Zibanejad played, but are 15-8-2 in 25 games since.  It has been the difference between falling behind in the standings early and rushing frantically to catch up late, only to fail in that quest.  Zibanejad is 2-24, plus-2, in six games against Washington this season and 12-11-23, minus-4 over his career against the Caps.

With Jack Johnson out for the rest of the year with hernia surgery, defenseman Brendan Smith is now the old man in blue, the only active Ranger born in the 1980’s (February 2, 1989, for those keeping score).  Now in his tenth NHL season (five-plus seasons in New York after starting his career with the Detroit Red Wings), Smith has posted his second double-digit point total as a Ranger (5-5-10) and his best plus-minus rating in any of his five-plus seasons in New York and best of his career (plus-8).  His five goals have tied a career-best, set with Detroit in 71 games in 2013-2014, and his shooting percentage (8.8) is the best of his career. He is doing it while averaging just 16:27 in ice time per game, fifth among the six Ranger defensemen to dress for at least 20 games.

Although the Rangers have not had a lot of offensive input from defensemen at home outside of the Adam Fox-Ryan Lindgren duo, Smith does rank fourth in points among defensemen on home ice (six) and he is one of three defensemen with two or more goals at MSG this season (Fox and Jacob Trouba being the others).  Smith is 0-1-1, minus-2, in five games against the Caps this season and 0-5-5, minus-2, in 24 career games against the Capitals.

1.  The two New York area teams (Rangers and Islanders) have used a combined four goalies against the Caps this season.  All four are Russian – Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin for the Islanders, and Ilya Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev for the Rangers.

2. The Rangers have dressed 11 defensemen this season.  All of them have points, but four of them have only one (Jack Johnson, Tony DeAngelo, Tarmo Reunanen, and Zac Jones).

3.  New York is one of four teams yet to score an overtime goal on home ice this season (Arizona, Buffalo, and Calgary are the others).  Only four teams have allowed more goals than the Rangers on home ice (three).  Dallas, Columbus, Buffalo, and Detroit have allowed four apiece.

4.  The Rangers are 11-1-1 on home ice when scoring first, tied with Boston for the sixth-best winning percentage in the league (.846).

5.  New York has the worst winning percentage in the league in one-goal games on home ice this season (1-3-3/.143)

1.  The Caps lead the league in first period goals scored on the road (31).

2.  Washington has more goals scored at 5-on-5 in road games (71 in 26 games) than any team in the league, ten more than Vegas (61).

3.  Only four teams have fewer blocked shots in road games than the Caps (286) – Philadelphia (280), Vancouver (276), Colorado (275), and Dallas (273).  The Caps have the third fewest blocked shots per 60 minutes (10.85), ahead of only Florida (10.83) and Philadelphia (10.58).

4.  Washington has 6.03 takeaways per 60 minutes in road games, fourth best in the league, behind Pittsburgh (6.22), Anaheim (6.49), and Vancouver (6.69).

5.  The Caps’ 8-1-2 record on the road in one-goal games is second-best in the league by win percentage (.727/8-1-2).  Only Vegas is better (.750/6-2-0)

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Filip Chytil

The scouting report on Filip Chytil says that he is “an excellent skater with playmaking skills and a very good wrist shot. Is also tenacious on the forecheck and versatile enough to play both center and wing. Is also an asset defensively when he does not have the puck.  On the other hand, it also says that he “needs to bulk up significantly and get a lot stronger in order to maximize output in the North American professional ranks. Also needs more strength to win board battles and forecheck consistently in the NHL.”  His potential is “fast, talented and versatile forward with upside.”

In a game that has put a premium on speed, that asset should benefit Chytil and the Rangers, but speed on the forecheck without being effective at it can work against him.  And so here he is, in his fourth season with the Rangers, putting up career or near career offensive numbers (8-12-20, plus-8, in 38 games). And, there is a balance in his game.  He has been on ice for only 17 even strength goals in 38 games this season, and his plus-8 even strength goal differential on ice is tied for second-best on the club, trailing only Artemi Panarin (plus-15).

Since March 30th, Chytil has been a bit on offense, posting two three-game points streaks, but he posted only his first three-game streak without a point over that span in his last three contests.  He is 3-8-11, plus-6 overall over those 18 games.  Chytil is 1-0-1, minus-1, in four games against the Caps this season and 1-3-4, minus-3, in his career against Washington.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin spent most of his career – 266 of 655 regular season games and 73 of 136 playoff games – as a New York Ranger.  Some of his best games came in the blue jersey.  There was his two assist game in a 4-1 win over the Caps in 2013…the three-point game he had in Game 4 of the 2013 playoff series in a 4-3 win over the Caps… the 29:50 he played in a three-overtime, 2-1 win over the Caps in the 2012 playoffs. 

But now, he is a Capital.  And being on the other side of the ice, facing the Rangers, has not been kind to the Rangers over Hagelin’s career.  With Anaheim, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and the Caps, Hagelin is 6-7-13, plus-10, in 23 games against New York.  Only once has he endured as much as a three-game streak without a point against the Rangers.  That, of course, would be as a Capital.  Still, he is 3-2-5, plus-5, in 10 games against the Rangers as a Capital, and that is good production for a player getting bottom-six minutes.  What stand out in those number is the three goals on 16 shots, an 18.8 shooting percentage, considerable better than his 7.9 percent career shooting percentage overall.

Summoning his history against the Rangers could not come at a better time.  Hagelin is without a point in his last eight games coming into this two-game set, and he has only two goals in his last 24 games on 33 shots (6.1 percent).  Hagelin is 1-1-2, plus-2, in six games against New York this season and 6-7-13, plus-10, I 23 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

With only five games left in the regular season, we are going to see if the Caps will “run through the tape” or coast to the finish.  Since their 14-game points streak back in mid-February to mid-March, they are 12-8-1.  Good, not great, but they are 7-4-0 on the road in that span, which is a decent result.  The Rangers provide an interesting test for the Caps.  They have been an annoying presence, going 4-2-0 in the six games against the Caps, and even the two Caps wins each were by a single goal (all of the Ranger wins were by multi-goal margins).  How the Caps do in this test might be an early indicator of their frame of mind heading into the playoffs.

Capitals 4 – Rangers 3

Capitals 5 – Rangers 2


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

Week 16 was a marching-in-place week for the Washington Capitals and gave support to the old adage, if you are not moving forward, you are falling behind.  And that is what happened, as the Caps fell two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins at week’s end to relinquish the top spot in the East Division, although they still hold a game in hand on the Pens.

Record: 1-1-1

Week 16 was the third week in the last five in which the Caps finished in break-even fashion.  That 10-7-1 record over those five weeks is tied for 12th in standings points earned and 15th in standing points percentage.  It mattered as well what the status was of opponents – 4-5-1 against playoff eligible teams, 6-2-0 against the also-rans.  And home ice has not been home sweet home, either.   Over those last five weeks, the Caps are 3-3-1 at Capital One Arena and 7-4-0 on the road.  Having the fourth-best home record in the East is not the most urgent issue on the list of things to attend to, but it should not be ignored, either.

Offense: 1.67/game (season:3.37 / 2nd)

Much has been made of the Caps’ success when Alex Ovechkin is not in the lineup – 3-0-1 this season before he missed the April 24th game against the New York Islanders, a game the Caps won, 6-3.  But his absence for all three games in Week 16, coupled with that of John Carlson, who missed both games against Pittsburgh to close the week, was felt in the team offensive statistics.

The Caps scored five goals in three games, four of them in an overtime loss to the Penguins in the middle game of the week.  Four Caps shared in the goal total, Daniel Sprong being the only skater with two goals.  Seven Caps recorded points, led by Nicklas Backstrom (0-3-3) and Dmitry Orlov (1-2-3).

Goaltending: 2.66 / .899 (season: 2.73 / .905 / 3 shutouts)

It was a close to average week for goaltending for the Caps, and that is not necessarily a good thing.  Vitek Vanecek continued his struggles with consistency, and Ilya Samsonov, who has been given a lot of chances lately to grab the number one role by the throat, loosened his grip somewhat.  Vanecek had a shutout and a five-goal game, which has become something of a disturbing pattern of late.  In his last eight games he allowed four or more goals three times and one or fewer goals four times.  This provides little confidence than he can provide consistently good (not even elite) netminding when the schedule comes down to seven-game series in a couple of weeks.

As for Samsonov, he had a four game personal winning streak broken, but even with the 4-1-0 record in his last five games, his save percentage were, in order (from least to most recent), .967, .880, 1.000, .975, and .885.  He, too, is having the sort of struggles with consistency that call into question whether he can raise his game in a seven-game series to a more consistent level.

Power Play: 1-for-6 / 16.7 percent (season: 26.3% percent / 3rd)

Six chances in three games.  Power plays are likely to be fewer in number for everyone when the playoffs start, but the lack of them for the Caps has been a season-long issue.  Their 2.69 power play chances per game rank 26th at week’s end, and only the New York Islanders among currently playoff eligible teams have fewer (2.67/28th).

The Caps were very average in efficiency in the chances they did get, scoring one goal on seven shots in 8:56 of power play time. On the other hand, they recorded five of those shots in a single game, getting five in 4:12 of power play ice time in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins in the middle game of the week.  T.J. Oshie was the only Capital with more than one shot on goal with a man advantage, getting two to the five total shots.  In this area, Ovechkin was missed, if only for the pressure he puts on defenses to be aware of where he is.

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8 / 100.0 percent (season: 83.4 percent / 6th)

The best area for the Caps in Week 16.  The number of shorthanded situations faced was manageable – 2.67 per game (slightly below their 2.96 season average), the Caps were efficient (six shots allowed in 16 minutes of shorthanded ice time).  It was the fourth perfect week on the penalty kill this season and the instance with the most shorthanded situations faced.  They also accomplished this by shutting out the league’s tenth best power play, twice (Pittsburgh).  After three weeks of declining penalty killing efficiency, it was a welcome development.

Faceoffs: 89-for-176 / 50.6 percent (season: 48.9 percent / 22nd)

It was a decent week for the Caps in the circle, even recognizing that they finished it one faceoff win over 50 percent. “Decent’ is used to describe it because it is a bit misleading.  The Caps won 60.4 percent of their faceoffs against the New York Islanders to start the week, but they were under 50 percent in each game against Pittsburgh (49.3 percent in the overtime loss and 43.4 percent in the last game of the week).  The was also the difference it the ends.  The Caps won 54.0 percent of their defensive zone draws, but they managed only a 48.4 percent winning percentage in the offensive end.

There was also an odd split among the individual players taking high volumes of faceoffs.  Of the “offense” oriented players, you had Nicklas Backstrom winning 63.2 percent of his faceoffs (54.5 percent in the offensive end), but Evgeny Kuznetsov winning just 43.3 percent of his (42.9 percent in the offensive zone).  Of the “defense” oriented players, there was Nic Dowd winning 60.5 percent of his draws (60.0 percent in the defensive end), but Lars Eller won just 41.8 percent of his faceoffs (42.9 percent in the defensive end).

Goals by Period:

The best one could say about the Caps scoring by period was “it was balanced.”  But it was anemic – two goals in the three first periods of games, two in the second periods, and one in the third periods.  The Caps are still tied for third in the league in first period goals scored (52, with Minnesota) and first in second period goals scored (72).  But those 45 third period goals for the season rank just 23rd in the league.  And while the Caps have allowed only 40 first period goals for the season (16th fewest), they have allowed 56 third period goals (tied for 22nd).  Some of the bloat in this number might be “score effect” goals, but not all of them.


The Caps are two wins short and two loss in regulation greater than last year’s club, a four-point difference.  Not a lot there.  The scoring offense and defense, on a year-to-year basis are not all that different, either (one goal in 51 games in scoring defense).  The Caps have had a considerable drop on both sides of special teams in number of chances, in both power play and penalty kill more than 15 percent fewer chances this year over last.

Shots and shot attempts continue to trail last year’s numbers by significant amounts, and penalties/penalty minutes continue to come in well below last year’s numbers.

In the end…

It is hard to tell whether the Caps are limping or coasting to the finish.  Missing Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson is a significant loss on the offensive side of the puck, but on the other hand, the Caps looked less intense than one might have expected in the two games against Pittsburgh. This might be an issue going into the last full week of the regular season, as the Caps have already clinched a spot in the top four in the East.  And, they play four of their last five games against teams out of contention – twice against the New York Rangers and a pair against the Philadelphia Flyers – before wrapping up the regular season against the Boston Bruins.  The concern here is that the 1-1-1 week not only left the Caps in second place in the division, but that they are only three points ahead of fourth-place Boston, which holds a game in hand.  The games to come are not a win-or-go-home matter, but they do matter nonetheless.  And that is a product of a somewhat disappointing Week 16.

Three Stars:

  • First Star: Dmitry Orlov (1-2-3, plus-1, eight shots on goal, 14 shot attempts, 20:25 average ice time)
  • Second Star: Daniel Sprong (2-0-2, minus-1, one game-winning goal, six shots on goal, 11 shot attempts, nine hits (tied for fourth on team), no giveaways)
  • Third Star: Nicklas Backstrom (0-3-3, even, 63.2 percent faceoff wins)