The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals close their two-game mini home stand against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps go into this game having lost their last two games on home ice, both in overtime, a 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames and a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. Arizona comes to town with the worst record in the league (pending the outcome of their game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night), having earned a single standings point in six games (0-5-1).
It is hardly a surprise that the Coyotes are in such dire straits early in the season. They have a minus-3.00 goal differential per game (1.83 goals for/4.83 goals against). Nine Coyotes have goals so far, but only Clayton Keller has more than one. His three-goal start resembles last season in which he posted goals in his first two games before finishing with 14 for the season. And therein lies the point. Keller is a decent supplemental scorer (71 goals in 299 career games, a 19 goals per 82 games pace), but he is not likely to be a “go-to“ guy for goal scoring. What Keller has been is consistent, though. In three of four seasons leading into this one he averaged 0.9 goals per 60 minutes (0.6 goals per game in 2018-2019). He is currently averaging 1.6 goals per 60 minutes, so some regression might be expected. Keller is 3-3-6, plus-1, in six career games against Washington.
Shayne Gostisbehere was going to be a foundation defenseman for the Philadelphia Flyers until he wasn’t. In his first four full seasons with the Flyers, he was 46-141-187 in 296 games, a 13-39-52 scoring line per 82 games, and was posed to take his place among the elite offensive defensemen in the league. And then it fell apart. In 2019-2020 he missed 21 games to knee injuries, and he was just 5-7-12 in the 42 games in which he appeared. Last season he missed 11 games to injury, COVID, and a suspension, was waived, placed on the Flyers’ taxi squad, and finished 9-11-20 in 41 games. Durability and production issues made it difficult for the Flyers to carry his $4.5 million cap hit through 2022-2023, so last July he was traded with a second and seventh round draft pick in 2022 for, well… air. The Flyers were so desperate to relieve themselves of the player and his cap hit that they received nothing in return. So now he is a Coyote, and he is tied for second on the team in points with four (all assists, three of them coming in the Coyotes’ 7-4 loss to St. Louis on October 18th). But he has also been on ice for eight goals against at even strength, second most on the team, and has a minus-4 goal differential. He is without a point in his last three games. Gostisbehere is 2-8-10, minus-4, in 22 games against the Caps in his career.
If there is a bright spot in the early going for Arizona, it might be defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin. In his first three seasons with the Coyotes, the undrafted free agent was just 1-9-10, minus-18, in 134 games, while averaging 14:31 in ice time per game. It’s early, but through six games so far, Lyubushkin is 0-2-2, plus-2 (best on the team), and is averaging 16:42 in ice time per game. No Coyote having appeared in all six games has been on ice for fewer goals against at even strength than Lyubushkin (three), and his plus-2 goal differential at evens is best on the team. Although he is almost no threat to score himself (he has no goals on only four shots on goal, no game with more than one so far), the Coyotes appear to have done better with him on the ice than just about any other skater. Lyubushkin is 0-0-0, plus-1, in two career games against Washington.
Arizona has scored only 11 goals, tied with the Montreal Canadiens for fewest in the league through Wednesday’s games.
2. The Coyotes have been outscored, 14-2, in second periods through Wednesday.
3. Arizona is one of four teams who have yet to win when scoring first (0-2-1).
4. In five regulation losses the Coyotes’ margin of defeat was three or more goals four times.
5. Arizona has the league’s worst penalty kill on the road – 37.5 percent (3-for-8).
The Capitals’ power play might have sputtered in the early going, but it’s not for lack of opportunities, especially on home ice, where they are fourth in the league in power play chances per game on home ice (4.20).
2. As for the sputtering part, there has been less “sputter” at home; the Caps’ five power play goals on home ice are second in the league (Edmonton has six).
3. The Caps have a 9-2 goals for/against advantage in second periods on home ice. The nine second period goals lead the league.
4. Washington has allowed three overtime goals on home ice. No other team in the league has allowed more than one.
5. The Caps’ two wins on home ice in regulation were both by three-plus goal margins; their three one-goal losses all in overtime.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Arizona: Phil Kessel
What a difference one spot in the draft can have. Looking back to the 2006 Entry Draft, the Caps selected Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick. Backstrom has been a cornerstone of the club for 14 seasons, closing in on 1,000 for his career. With the next pick, the fifth overall selection, the Boston Bruins took Phil Kessel. When Kessel was traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins with Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth round draft pick to the Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, the Coyotes became his fourth team in 13 seasons. No that he lacked for a resume along the way. Now in his 15th season in the league, Kessel has 378 goals and 875 points in more than 1,000 games played. There are also the two Stanley Cups he won while with the Penguins. But at age 34, the mileage is starting to show. In a ten season span from 2009-2009 through 2017-2018, he had six 30-goal seasons. In the three seasons that followed, his high was 27 (in 2018-2019), and he averaged 24 goals per 82 games. He is off to a slow start in goal scoring this season with one in six games (on just seven shots), although that one came in his last outing before Thursday’s action, in a 5-3 loss to Florida. This is a walk year for Kessel, whose eight-year/$64.0 million contract is expiring at the end of this season. He might be an asset to be moved at some point this season, even with a modified no-trade clause (he can submit an eight-team trade list; source: capfriendly.com). Kessel is 13-22-35, minus-9, in 49 career games against Washington.
Washington: Nic Dowd
Nic Dowd is nominally a center for the Caps, but his position might just as well be “hockey player,” untethered from a specific position. Dowd has not turned on the red light often (one goal in six games, his only point to date), but he has a plus-2 rating, has won 59.5 percent of his faceoffs (11th among 101 players taking 50 or more draws), is averaging 5.83 his per 60 minutes (third on the team), is averaging 3.64 blocked shots per 60 minutes (first among Caps forwards), is averaging 2.18 takeaways per 60 minutes (also best among forwards), is averaging 1:40 per game in shorthanded ice time (again best among forwards). He has done it taking only 123 shifts, 14th among the 19 skaters to dress so far this season. Even on offense, Dowd has that one goal on six shots. A small population of shots to be sure, but the 16.7 shooting percentage is in line with last year’s (16.2) when he posted a career high 11 goals. Upping the shooting frequency might help his numbers and the Caps’ fortunes. Dowd has yet to post a point in ten career games against Arizona and is a minus-4.
In the end…
The Caps have had two consecutive disappointing finishes on home ice against lesser opponents (at least on paper). If a team aspires to make their arena a difficult place for opponents the thrive, that can’t happen. The Coyotes are another squad playing in tough times looking for a spark. The challenge for the Caps, in addition to their not playing 60 minutes against these opponents, is that this is a getaway game, the last game on home ice before the Caps head to Tampa Bay and Miami for the weekend against much stronger opponents. If the Caps don’t play disciplined hockey, focusing on systems and responsibilities, as opposed to padding stats, it could be a long few days ahead for this team.
Capitals 3 – Coyotes 2