Sunday, November 07, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 12: Sabres at Capitals: November 8

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will seek to put last week’s 0-2-1 record behind them as the open the new week against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night at Capital One Arena.  The Caps will be facing a team with troubles of their own, the Sabres coming to DC dragging a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) in their wake.  It has been a lack of defense that has done in the Sabres, who have allowed 17 goals in the four-game skid.

The goaltending numbers over those four losses for the Sabres are rather ghastly.  Dustin Tokarski is 0-2-1, 3.65, .894, and he is the better of the two goalies in this stretch.  Former Capital Craig Anderson was involved in but one of the four games, but he allowed five goals on 22 shots in a 5-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks last Tuesday.  Their performances did not reflect their seasons to date, which have been impressive for both, given the state of the Sabres overall.  Tokarski goes into Monday’s game with a record of 1-2-2, 2.72, .915, while Anderson is 4-2-0, 2.50, .921 . 

For Tokarski, this season might finally be “that season,” the one where he takes on the burden of being a number one goaltender.  In seven seasons preceding this one, he dressed for a total of 47 games and had only 37 starts.  His high water mark for appearances and starts came back in 2014-2015 when he appeared in 17 games for the Montreal Canadiens, starting 16 of them.  Only once – in that 2014-2015 season – did he win more than two games (6-6-4, 2.75, .910).  Tokarski is in his second season with Buffalo, the fourth team for which he played in his career to date (Montreal, Anaheim, and Tampa Bay are the others).  He won his first game this season, but he is 0-2-2, 3.20, .909 in his last four contests.  Tokarski is 2-1-1, 2.43, ,919 in four career appearances against Washington.

When Kyle Okposo was drafted seventh overall by the New York Islanders, he seemed to have a fine career as a power forward ahead of him.  But then came the injuries – arm, groin, H1N1 virus, shoulder, lower body, upper body, knee, rib, concussions (three of them), cheekbone.  The injuries took their toll, and instead of becoming a consistent 25-35 goal scorer, he topped 25 goals only once (27 goals with the Islanders in 2013-2014).  He has not hit the 20-goal mark since 2015-2016, when he posted 22 with the Islanders.  That was his last year on Long Island before arriving in Buffalo as a free agent in July 2016.  Since moving upstate, though, his production has been in steady decline, finally settling with two goals and 13 points in 35 games last season with the Sabres.  Okposo has already eclipsed last year’s goal total, recording three in 11 games so far.  Of immediate concern, though, is that in the four-game winless streak, Okposo has not been on ice for a single goal for the Sabres at even strength, while he has been on ice for six goals scored against the Sabres.  Okposo is 11-11-22, plus-1, in 40 career games against the Caps.

Buffalo has had timely contributions on offense from the defense, mostly in terms of setting up others to score.  All six defensemen having appeared in more than one game have points, but only two – Rasmus Dahlin and Robert Hagg – have goals.  Dahlin, drafted number one overall in the 2018 Entry Draft with the expectation that he would develop into a franchise defenseman, seems to have hit a wall.  After going 13-71-84, minus-20, in 141 games over his first two seasons, he was 5-18-23, minus-36 last season, that minus-36 finishing dead last among 913 skaters in plus-minus rating.  Only two players were on ice for more even strength goals against that Dahlin (62) – Brent Burns with 69 and Quinn Hughes with 64.  He is minus-7 in his last eight games after posting a plus-3 rating in his first three games.  Dahlin is tied for the team lead in points among defensemen (1-5-6), half of his points coming on power plays.  He also leads the defense in ice time (22:57 pr game), shots on goal (20), and penalty minutes (12), takeaways (six, tied with Mark Pysyk).  Dahlin is 2-6-8, minus-11, in 13 career games against the Caps.

1.  Every Sabre who has played more than one game has at least one point. 

2.  Buffalo has the third-worst shot differential per game on the road (minus-9.6 shots per game).

3.  The Sabres have allowed more goals at 4-on-4 on the road (three) than any other team.

4.  Buffalo has one third period goal scored on the road this season, the third and final goal in a 5-3 loss to San Jose on November 2nd.

5.  If Buffalo earns one standings point, it will make 100 standings points earned by the Sabres in Washington in the all-time series.

1.  Evgeny Kuznetsov is the all-time rating leader for the Caps against Buffalo (plus-15).

2.  Tom Wilson is the only active Capital with a shorthanded goal against Buffalo in his career.

3.  With one penalty minute, Alex Ovechkin would break a tie with Brendan Witt for second-most penalty minutes against the Sabres in team history (both have 69 PIMs).

4.  Only three Capitals have taken penalty shots against the Sabres in the all-time series – Tommy Williams, Jason Chimera, and Alex Ovechkin.  Chimera is the only one of the three to score a goal.

5.  If Vitek Vanecek gets the call and plays 60 minutes, he will pass Philipp Grubauer for fifth place in all-time minutes played by a Caps goalie against Buffalo.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Buffalo: Rasmus Asplund

Anyone have Rasmus Asplund as the Sabres’ leading scorer 11 games into the season?  Well, there he is, the only Sabre with double digits in points to date (4-6-10).  And, he comes into this game on a roll, sporting a six-game points streak (3-5-8, plus-4), one of his three goals being the game-winner in a 4-3 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks on October 28th.  Asplund was a second round pick (33rd overall) in the 2016 Entry Draft.  He reached the NHL in 2019-2020, but he played in only 57 games over the past two seasons before this one, posting a modest scoring line of 8-6-14, minus-3.  He has points in eight of 11 games so far, and he has done well with more ice time, posting at least one point in all five games in which he skated more than 17:30 (although the Sabres are 2-3-0 in those games).  He is not an especially physical player, at least this season, recording four hits, three blocked shots, and four penalty minutes in his 11 games to date.  Asplund is 0-2-2, plus-2, in three career games against Washington.

Washington: Carl Hagelin

It has not been an easy start to the season for Carl Hagelin.  In 11 games to date, he has no goals on 15 shots, one assist, eight penalty minutes, and an even rating.  He goes into Monday’s game on an eight-game pointless streak with a minus-1 rating and 13:07 in average ice time.  He has seven credited hits in that span and two blocked shots (none in his last seven games).  Hagelin had a glorious chance on a breakaway against Philadelphia in the Caps’ most recent contest, but he caught the puck on the heel of his stick and did not get a good shot on goal.  Shooting has always been an issue for Hagelin, but it has become more pronounced in recent years.  Since 2016-2017, 280 forwards have dressed for 250 or more games.  Hagelin ranks 278th – third worst – in shooting percentage (5.8 percent), only Sean Kuraly (5.1 percent) and Joakim Nordstrom (5.3 percent) being worse.  Of 117 forwards to dress for at least 100 games as a Capital, Hagelin ranks 106th in shooting percentage (7.0 percent).  Hagelin is 7-4-11, plus-10, in 32 career games against the Caps.

In the end…

This will be a battle of teams that have earned one standings point apiece over their last four games.  The Caps posted that record largely as a result of injuries to key players and some iffy goaltending.  The Sabres posted their record as a result of not being a consistently competitive team at this stage of their development.  Washington needs to avoid playing down to their competition, score early, put the Sabres in their place, and snap their sleepwalking of the last four games, especially early in games.  If the Caps do not get off to a quick start and let the Sabres hang around, that one-goal loss thing starts to loom larger, and that is something the Caps need to solve and solve quickly.  Play 60 minutes, and the Caps win.  Don’t, and they probably won’t.

Capitals 5 – Sabres 3


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 4

It was bound to happen sooner or later, and perhaps it is best the Caps get this out of the way sooner rather than later.  We are speaking, of course, of a winless week, one that the Caps suffered in Week 4.  It left the Caps in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division that has crowded itself into eight teams separated by seven points from top to bottom.

Record (0-2-1)

The Caps dropped three one-goal decisions in Week 4, bringing their total of one-goal losses to six in six losses (0-2-4).  They finished the week as one of four teams without a one-goal win this season (New York Islanders, Montreal, and Chicago being the others).  Only the Anaheim Ducks had as many one goal losses as the Caps (0-3-3).  It is the Caps’ longest losing streak since enduring a four-game slide in Games 10-13 last season.  If there is a silver (or at least a gray) lining, the Caps lost to tough clubs, the trio – Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Philadelphia Flyers – holding a combined record of 22-5-5 at the end of the week.

Offense: 2.33 / game (season: 3.36 / 6th)

When a player with four games of NHL experience at week’s end leads the team in goals, there might be issues.  Brett Leason led the Caps with a pair of goals for the week, while five other Caps had one apiece.  Leason also tied for the team lead in points for the week (three) with John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin.  Not bad company, but on the other hand, he managed to post points in a week when nine of 11 skaters failed to do so, and seven others were held to a single point. 

Defense: 3.33 / game (season: 2.64 / T-7th)

The Caps had been rather stingy in the shots allowed department, but in Week 4 they allowed an average of 30.4 shots in the three games (13th best in the league for the week), leaving them in second place in shots allowed per game for the season (27.0 allowed per game), trailing only the Seattle Kraken (25.8).  It was a similar result in shot attempts, where the Caps finished 19th in the league for the week with 130 shots allowed at 5-on-5.  The Caps finished the week ninth in the league in total shot attempts allowed at fives (444).

The fourth line of Nic Dowd, Carl Hagelin, and Garnet Hathaway each finished the week a minus-2 in even strength goal differential, three of eight Caps to finish minus-2.  Daniel Sprong was the only Capital to finish plus-2 in goal differential at evens.

Goaltending: 3.34 / .890 (season: 2.61 / .902)

Neither Vitek Vanecek nor Ilya Samsonov had stellar weeks for the Caps, but of the two, Vanecek was much better.  He took all three decisions (0-2-1) and finished the week with a goals against average of 2.75 and a .904 save percentage.  Ilya Samsonov logged only 25 minutes and change for the week and saw his stats balloon – 7.05 goals against average and a .833 save percentage.

Goaltending has become an issue for the Caps.  At week’s end, among 45 goalies with at least 200 minutes logged, Vanecek ranked 16th in goals against average (2.43) and 30th in save percentage.  Samsonov ranked 32nd in goals against average (2.91) and 40th in save percentage (.893).  Among 39 goalies with at least five appearances, Vanecek ranked 18th in even strength save percentage (.927), while Samsonov ranked 35th (.900).

Power Play: 1-for-9 / 11.1 percent (season: 17.5 percent / 22nd)

Clearly, the Caps miss Nicklas Backstrom.  A 1-for-9 week is just another disappointing week in a season of frustration with the man advantage.  It is a power play that seems to have been whittled to its essence, setting up Alex Ovechkin for one timers from the left wing circle with occasional shots by John Carlson at the top of the offensive zone.  They just have not had any success feeding the middle of the 1-3-1 formation for shots or goals.  And, that Conor Sheary got the only power play goal for the week was surprising, but in a way a reflection of the limits of the Caps’ power play to date.  Sheary does not generally get much power play time when the Caps have a full and healthy power play unit to put on the ice.  It is especially frustrating in that the Caps rank sixth in power play chances per game through Week 4 (3.64).  

Penalty Killing 6-for-8 / 75.0 percent (season: 76.7 percent / 22nd)

The Caps’ penalty kill to date has been rather mediocre, and the rankings show that.  The Caps, who have allowed at least one power play goal in each of the first four weeks, rank 22nd in penalty killing. Fortunately, the Caps have the ninth-fewest shorthanded instances per game through Week 4 (2.73). 

It was the Trevor van Riemsdyk/Nick Jensen pair who led defensemen in shorthanded ice time for the week, 2:52 per game and 2:16 per game, respectively.  For van Riemsdyk, it was almost two-thirds of the Caps’ shorthanded ice time total (63.4 percent).   Lars Eller led all forwards with 2:32 pr game while on penalty killing duty. 

Faceoffs: 71-for-152 / 46.7 percent (46.9 percent / 25th)

The Caps finished the week on the wrong side of 50 percent overall, but things were not quite that bad.  While they were just 28-for-62 in the offensive end (45.2 percent), they were 21-for-40 in the defensive end (52.5 percent).

Lars Eller was the only Capital taking at least ten draws to finish the week over 50 percent (57.4).  He did it by dominating in the defensive end (13-for-18/72.2 percent) and edging over 50 percent in the neutral zone (9-for-17/52.9 percent).  Evgeny Kuznetsov was sheltered, to an extent, taking 29 of his 48 faceoffs in the offensive zone, going 14-for-29 (48.3 percent).

Goals by Period

The Caps found themselves in catch-up mode for much of the week, and the goals by period reflect this, going minus-1 in first period goals and minus-3 in the second periods of games.  The Caps still, however, maintained an edge in all three regulation periods for the season, all with a plus-4 in goal differential.  They are the only team in the league with at least a plus-4 goal differential in each regulation period.  But what sticks out, of course, is that minus-4 in overtime periods. 


For all the Caps’ recent struggles, they are not far off their 11-game pace of last year, one point off that pace.  The defense is better, having shaved seven goals off what they allowed through 11 games last season.  Where they lag significantly is in the power play, which is converting at roughly half the rate they converted chances through 11 games last season.  But the Caps have been playing better inside the rules, their penalties down by eight from last season and penalty minutes down by 17.

In the end…

It was not a good week, but the combination of key missing elements and a tough schedule left the Caps with a single standings point for the week.  Rookies are getting their chance to gain game experience, and they have shown some promise.  But the Caps need more production out of their scoring lines.  Yes, they are missing what amounts to their second forward line, but the NHL is unforgiving.  The Caps catch a bit of a break in Week 5 with a next-level downward of competition capped with a game against a Penguins team that has been decimated by illness and injury.  The Caps need to take advantage to step up their game.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Brett Leason (2-1-3, plus-1, first NHL goal/point, three-game points streak, six shots on goal, seven shot attempts)
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (1-2-3, plus-1, 18 shots on goal, 27 shot attempts, four takeaways, 22:15 average ice time)
  • Third Star: Daniel Sprong (1-0-1, plus-2, nine shots on goal, 13 shot attempts)