Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 32: Predators at Capitals: December 29th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a 13-day hiatus, the Washington Capitals will resume play on Wednesday night when they host the Nashville Predators at Capital One Arena…maybe.  While the league stands like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in the face of a tornado bearing down on the Gale family farm, teams will take the ice to try to weather the latest COVID interruption in the schedule.  With three games on this week’s league schedule postponed, the total number of games postponed hit the 70-game mark. The Caps have lost three games to COVID, games in Philadelphia against the Flyers and in New York against the Islanders, and a home matchup with Ottawa on Monday.

For the Predators, the interruption could not have come at a worse time from an on-ice performance perspective.  Nashville went into the pause on a seven-game winning streak, outscoring opponents by a 25-14 margin.  It is that defense, tied for third-best during the streak at 2.00 goals allowed per game, that has fueled the surge.  It is quite an improvement over the 2.83 goals per game they allowed over their first 23 games of the season. 

The improvement starts with goaltending.  While David Rittich has a 2-0-0 during the streak as a backup, he has bee more a passenger than pilot, posting a 2.50 goals against average and a disturbing .865 save percentage.  Then there is Juuse Saros. During the seven-game winning streak, Saros is 5-0-0, 1.77, .931, with one shutout, a 32-save gem in a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on December 12th.  Saros might be a smallish goaltender by today’s standards, (5’11”/180 pounds), but it has not stopped him from grabbing the number one goaltending job and hold onto it tightly.  Now in his seventh NHL season, he has an impressive career line of 91-55-18, 2.46, .921, with 16 shutouts.  He has been a consistent performer. In six full seasons with Nashville, Saros never posted a save percentage under .914 and never recorded a goals against average over 2.70.  If there is a lingering question about Saros, it is in his durability over a long season as a number one goalie.  In seven seasons, his high water mark in appearances is 40 games, that in 2019-2020.  He has appeared in 24 of Nashville’s 30 games to date this season, so how his performance changes (or doesn’t) when the calendar moves to February and March will bear watching.  Saros is 4-0-0, 2.75, .908 in four career appearances against the Csps.

So, who leads the Predators in goal scoring over their seven-game streak?  Filip Forsberg?  Nope.  Ryan Johansen?  Nope.  Matt Duchene?  Nope (and he played only three games during this streak; he is “day-to-day” with an upper body injury).  You would go through a lot of the roster before settling on Eeli Tolvanen, who has four goals during the streak.  Tolvanen was taken in the first round (30th overall) in the 2017 Entry Draft.  He broke through and saw his first NHL action in 2017-2018, but he appeared in only three games that season and only four in the next.  He spent the entire 2019-2020 season with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL, and then he split his time between Jokerit in the KHL (24 games) and Nashville (40 games).  Last season Tolvanen had his first season of sustained play, and he did not disappoint, finishing in a tie for tenh among rookies in goals scored (11), tied for 12th in assists (11), 12th in points (22), second in power play goals (six), third in power play points (12), and tied for first in game-winning goals (four).  However, this season his numbers are regressing a bit (5-6-11, plus-8, in 30 games), most notably in shooting efficiency.  Last season he shot 16.9 percent on his way to a tie for 13th in Calder Trophy voting for top rookie.  At the moment, that shooting efficiency is just 6.5 percent.  Tolvanen has never faced the Caps.

Nashville has dressed six rookie skaters this season, but only Tanner Jeannot has appeared in all 30 games for the Preds.  And he is not just a placeholder.  In those 30 games he is 8-9-17, plus-2. Among this year’s rookie cohort, he is tied for second in goals scored (eight), seventh in assists (nine), fifth in points (17), tied for second in game-winning goals (two), and is one of six skaters with at least one overtime goal.  Jeannot was not drafted, signing as a free agent with Nashville in April 2018 after four seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League in Canadian junior hockey. In the following three seasons he split time between the Milwaukee Admirals and Chicago Wolves in the AHL and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL in addition to 15 games with Nashville last season when he went 5-2-7, plus-6.  Jeannot also plays with a physical edge, racking up 38 penalty minutes in 30 games, third in the league among rookies. He also leads all rookies in credited hits (92) and is averaging 11.70 hits per 60 minutes, third among rookies appearing in at least 20 games.  Fun Jeannot fact…Nashville has not lost a game in the seven games in which he recorded at least one goal (7-0-0).  Jeannot has never faced the Caps.

1.  Nashville is second in the league in road power play efficiency (33.3 percent; Edmonton is at 36.8 percent).

2.  The Predators are consistent goal scorers on the road, at least by period – 14 first period, 14 second period, and 16 third period goals.

3.  Nashville Is tied with Toronto for the third-best winning percentage on the road when scoring first (both with 7-1-0/.875).

4.  The Preds have the best road record, by winning percentage, in the league in one-goal games (7-0-1/.875).

5.  Nashville is one of eight teams that has yet to go to the Gimmick in road games.

1.  Washington has the third-worst faceoff winning percentage on home ice (47.3 percent).

2.  The Caps have been stingy at home allowing shots on goal, the 25.9 shots allowed on home ice being second-best in the league (Calgary: 24.5).

3.  Washington has the best net penalty kill in the league (accounting for shorthanded goals scored by opponents): 100.0 percent.

4.  The Capsa are tied with Philadelphia for most shorthanded goals scored in home games (four, the same number of opponent power play goals allowed).

5.  Washington has carried a lead into the third period ten times at Capital One Arena this season, but their 7-1-2 record is third worst in the league by winning percentage among teams leading on home ice through 40 minutes (.700; Arizona has not yet taken a lead into the third period on home ice).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Nashville: Filip Forsberg

When the Caps drafted Filip Forsberg 11th overall in 2012, they thought they were getting a center who would add depth and skill to the position for a decade or more.  Well, that didn’t quite work out.  Forsberg, who might have been the victim of buyer’s remorse by the Caps, was traded to Nashville in April 2013 for Martin Erat and Michael Latta in a trade that probably will never be highly-ranked frm a value-added point of view among trades in Caps history.  Caps fans’ teeth were clenched even tighter when, in 2014-2015, Forsberg finished 26-37-63, plus-15, fourth in Calder Trophy voting for top rookie, and making the All-Rookie First Team that season.  Since then, he has built a memorable career.  He already ranks second in franchise history in goals scored (191), sixth in assists (216), fifth in points (407), second in power play goals (50), sixth in power play points (119), tied for seventh in shorthanded goals (six), second in game-winning goals (37), second in overtime goals (eight), fifth in credited hits (662), first in takeaways (415), and tied for third in empty net goals (nine).  And, he is still only 27 years old.  If he finishes his career in Nashville, he is likely to hold every significant individual record in franchise history.

This year, Forsberg in on pace to set a personal record for goals scored (13 in 21 games so far, a 45-goal pace), points (22 in 21 games, a 76-point pace), and shooting efficiency (currently at 21.3 percent).  The Predators have a good, but not great record this season when Forsberg posts a goal (6-2-0) or records a point (10-4-0).  He comes into this game with a four-game points streak (2-4-6, plus-3), including a three-game road points streak (0-3-3, even).  He has only two goals in nine games on the road so far this season.  Forsberg has tormented the team that drafted him to the tune of 7-8-15, plus-9, in 11 career games against the Caps.

Good thing that 16th overall pick in the 2012 draft worked out for the Caps... 

Washington: Nic Dowd

Nic Dowd has been pretty much a typical fourth line forward in seven road games this season (0-2-2, plus-1, in 14:46 in average ice time per game).  But at home, he has produced like a scoring line forward – 3-2-5, plus-1, in 13:42 in average ice time.  He is sixth in points-per-game on home ice (0.45; minimum: 10 games), is fourth in goals per game (0.27), and is shooting 30.0 percent.  Strangely, perhaps, he is last among 17 skaters to dress for at least ten games in shots per game played (0.91).  But his production at home has not come at the expense of what brought him here.  He has displayed a physical edge of the sort with which fourth-liners are often associated, his 2.27 hits per game ranking third on the club at home (minimum: 10 games), and his 0.82 blocked shots per game ranks first among forwards having dressed for at least ten games.  Fun Dowd fact… in eight games overall in which he was credited with at least three hits, the Caps lost five times in extra time (four in overtime, once in the Gimmick).  Dowd is 1-3-4, minus-1, in five career games against Nashville.

In the end…

When it come to opponents, the Nashville Predators have become a pain in the ass.  Washington has not beaten Nashville since beating the Preds, 4-1, on March 18, 2016, at Capital One Arena. Since then, the Caps are 0-7-1 overall against Nashville.  And it hasn’t been a slump with much in the way of “moral victories.  Nashville outscored the Caps, 41-23, and scored five or more goals six times.  Some teams just have another’s number, and, at least recently, the Predators have the Caps’.  Clearly, the Caps need to turn off the open fire hydrant that has been the Predators’ offense against them. With players coming and going, and a lineup that is uncertain from game-to-game, that will be a challenge.  It might not be a reliable indicator, though, or where these teams sit in the league pecking order of best teams.

Capitals 5 – Predators 4