Friday, December 30, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 39: Canadiens at Capitals, December 31

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals ring out the old year on Saturday afternoon wanting to ring the nasty stains of a fall-from-ahead 4-3 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.  The Montreal Canadiens will arrive at Capital One Arena to provide the opposition.  Despite the overtime loss to the Senators, the Caps will go into the 2022 finale on a six-game points streak (5-0-1) and, with a win, could still finish December with the best record in the league for the month (currently 10-2-2, one point behind Carolina at 11-0-1). 

Montreal might be coming into this game thinking the Stanley Cup final they played in two seasons ago was in 1921, not 2021.  Since then, the most celebrated franchise in the NHL is 37-67-14, their 88 standings points earned tied with Arizona and Chicago for fewest in the league.  Montreal has made progress this season, but they still have a long was to go to be competitive.  At 15-18-3, Montreal is in eighth place in the Atlantic Division and 11 points out of a wild-card spot. 

The Canadiens struggle to score, their 2.61 goals per game tied for 28th in the league in scoring offense.  Only two skaters have reached double digits in goals through 36 games.  Cole Caufield is one of the players around whom the Canadiens hope to build in the seasons ahead.  The 15th overall pick of the 2019 Entry Draft, Caufield is one goal short of posting his second straight 20-goal season (he had 23 in 67 games last season).  He is on a pace to finish this season with 43 goals, which would make him the first 40-goal scorer for Montreal since Vincent Damphousse finished the 1993-1994 season with 40 goals.

While Caufield has been productive in his goal scoring overall, there is a definite home tilt to his production.  In 16 home games to date, he is 13-3-16, minus-5; while he is 6-6-12, minus-4, in 20 road games.  His goal scoring matters, the Canadiens going 9-5-1 in the 15 games in which he had goals, 6-13-2 in the 21 games he went without one.  More to the point for this game, Montreal has not lost a road game in regulation in which he had a goal (4-0-1).  On the other hand, he comes into this game on a four-game streak without a goal on the road, the Canadiens losing each of those games (0-3-1).  In four career games against Washington, Caufield is 2-1-3, minus-3.

Nick Suzuki is the other double digit goal scorer for the Canadiens with 15 in 36 games, and his 31 points leads the team.  On September 12th, he was named the 31st captain in Montreal history, following Shea Weber in the position.  At 23 years of age, he became the youngest captain in franchise history.  The 13th overall pick of the 2017 Entry Draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, he was traded to Montreal in September 2018 with a second round draft pick in 2019 and Tomas Tatar to the Canadiens for Max Pacioretty.  In four seasons with Montreal, he has improved steadily, going 13-28-41 in 71 games as a rookie in 2019-2020 to 15-26-41 in 56 games in 2020-2021 to 21-40-61 in 82 games last season.

This season, Suzuki is 15-16-31, a 34-36-70 scoring pace thqat would make him only the second Canadien over the last 13 seasons to record 70 or more points (Max Domi had 72 points in 2018-2019).  Unlike Caufield, Suzuki’s scoring has been balanced between home and road venues – 7-8-15 in 16 home games and 8-8-16 in 20 road games.  What Suzuki has not been is hot lately.  After posting points in five of six games to end November and start December, he is just 1-1-2, minus-8, over his last ten games.  He has really cooled off on the road.  After going 8-8-16 in his first 15 road games, Suzuki is on a five-game streak on the road without a point and has gone seven straight road games without a goal  He is 3-3-6, minus-4, in seven career games against Washington.

You would think that a team trying to rebuild and climb back into the playoff conversation would be giving young players a long look.  In the case of the Canadiens, you would be right.  Montreal has five rookie skaters this season with more than 30 games played.  Defenseman Kaiden Guhle leads that group, the only Montreal rookie to appear in all 36 games so far this season. He leads all rookie defensemen in games played, and only Dallas forward Wyatt Johnston has appeared in more games as a rookie to date (37). Guhle, another first round pick (16th overall in the 2020 Entry Draft), is tied for ninth in scoring in his draft class this season (2-12-14) and the leading scorer among defensemen. 

Guhle’s season started in modest fashion, going 1-2-3, minus-3, in his first 11 games.  But starting with a two-point night against the Vegas Golden Knights on November 5th (a 6-4 Montreal loss), he is 1-10-11, minus-11, in his last 25 games.  And yes, that minus-11 does stick out, but he is one of four Canadiens in double digit negative territory in that category, including Caufield (minus-10) and Suzuki (minus-12).  His home-road split is significant.  Although he has yet to record a goal on home ice, he has nine assists in 16 games.  On the road, he is just 2-3-5 in 20 games.  He has, however, raised in road production a bit over time.  In his first ten road games, Guhle was 1-0-1, minus-4, but over his last ten road contests, he is 1-3-4, minus-4.  He was without a point and posted a minus-2 rating in his only appearance against the Caps to date.

1.  As the Canadiens prepare for their last game in the calendar year, their 30-45-10 record is 29th in the league in points earned since January 1st (70) and 28th n points percentage (.412).

2.  Montreal’s 2.85 goals per game ranks 26 in scoring offense in 2022.

3.  The 3.86 goals allowed per game in 2022 leaves Montreal as the 31st-ranked scoring defense in the league this calendar year.

4.  Canadiens’ special teams struggled in 2022.  Their power play ranked 31st (15.1 percent), their penalty kill ranked 21st (77.0 percent), and their special teams index (92.1) ranked 29th.

5.  Montreal was 9-27 in games decided by three or more goals, their .250 winning percentage ranking 29th in the league in 2022.

1.  Washington goes into their last game of the calendar year with 98 points earned, 18th in the league in points (44-33-10), and their .563 points percentage ranks 18th as well.

2.  The Caps’ 3.15 goals per game in 2022 is the 17th-ranked scoring offense, and their 3.01 goals allowed per game ranks 13th in the league in scoring defense in the calendar year.

3.  The 21.0 percent power play ranks the Capitals 20th in the league in 2022, their 80.3 percent penalty kill ranks 13th, and their 10.3 special teams index ranks 17th.

4.  Washington has 3.23 power play chances per game with one game left in 2022, the fifth-most power play chances per game.

5.  The Caps have just 171 5-on-5 goals in 2022.  The are one of two teams (Winnipeg is the other) to have a scoring offense of at least 3.10 goals per game and fewer than 175 goals at 5-on-5.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Montreal: Jake Allen/Sam Montembeault

Old or young, veteran or inexperienced, Jake Allen or Sam Montembeault?  There has been little difference in the performance of the Montreal goaltenders this season, which is not to say that either Allen or Montembeault have been great, or even good.  Much of that might be a product to a young team in front of them, but their numbers, while very similar, are not among the league leaders. 

Allen, 32 years old with ten seasons and 377 games in the NHL, has had the lion’s share of starts (24 in 36 games), posting a record of 9-14-1, 3.29, .900.  Those 14 losses in regulation are tied with Anaheim’s John Gibson for most in the league.  His goals against average ranks 46th among 65 goalies with at least 500 minutes played, while his save percentage ranks 39th in that group.  Montembeault, 26 years old with 75 games played over four seasons, has 12 starts, going 6-4-2, 3.23, .904.  His goals against average ranks 43rd in that group of 65 goalies, while his save percentage ranks 35th. 

While Allen has been more of the “home” goaltender (14 of his 24 starts were at Bell Centre), Montembeault has been almost the designated road goalie, ten of his 12 starts this season coming on the road.  But the odd part of that is his road record is not very good – 4-4-2, 3.49, .898 – while he is 2-0-0, 1.96, .934 in his only two starts on home ice.  On the other hand, Allen is 4-5-1, 2.70, .923 on the road and just 5-9-0, 3.72, .882 at home.  Allen is 3-3-0, 2.97, .902, with one shutout in six career games against the Caps, while Montembeault is 0-2-0, 4.40, .859, in three career games against the Caps.

Washington: Aliaksei Protas

Last season, Aliaksei Protas was 3-6-9, plus-4, in 33 games.  So far this season, he is 3-4-7, plus-1, in 38 games, one of nine Capitals to appear in every game to date.  He has gone long stretches without points this season, recording two streaks of six games without a point and another eight-game streak.  If he goes without a point against Montreal, he will add another six-game streak to this year’s log.  He does not get much in the way of scoring line minutes, and he is averaging about a minute less per game in ice time this year (10:58) than last year (11:50).  

It makes Protas’ relatively unchanged stat line from last year to this look unsurprising.  But despite his modest production to date, there is the “canary in a coal mine” aspect to his game that one might remember was a hallmark of former Capital Jay Beagle’s game.  When he puts crooked numbers on the score sheet, the Caps win.  They are 3-0-0 in the games in which he had goals so far and 6-0-0 in games in which he had points.  It was much the same last season, when the Caps went 3-0-0 in games in which he had goals and 7-1-0 in games in which he had points.  And while he is not an especially physical player, the Caps are 10-4-3 in games in which he recorded at least one hit.  Protas’ production on home ice has lagged, going 1-1-2, plus-1, in 18 games, while he is 2-3-5, even, I 20 road contests.  He is 0-0-0, even, in two career games against Montreal.

In the end…

One bad loss is bad, two against a pair of non-playoff teams to end the calendar year would be worse.  The way the Caps lost to Ottawa, giving up a two goal lead and losing in overtime on home ice, had to sting. But is not as if the Caps have dominated this team on their rink.  The teams split their last 20 decisions in Washington right down the middle, each with ten wins.  And, the Caps’ offense over those 20 games has been a dry well, averaging just 2.70 goals per game.  Fortunately, their defense has been better, allowing the Canadiens only 2.25 goals per game over those 20 contests.  After going dormant late in the game against Ottawa, a fast start in this one would not be surprising.  It certainly would be welcome.

Capitals 5 – Canadiens 2

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 38: Senators at Capitals, December 29

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return from New York and their 4-0 win over the Rangers on Tuesday night to start a three-game home stand on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators at Capital One Arena.  The Caps are on a five-game winning streak, their second five-game winning streak this month, and their 13-3-1 since November 23rd is the second best record in the league over that span. 

Ottawa has been the epitome of a streaky team.  Starting with a 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on November 19th, the Senators have gone 18 games over which they have had either consecutive wins or consecutive losses, save for an odd 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers on November 30th that was sandwiched between two two-game winning streaks, and a 3-2 Gimmick win over the Boston Bruins in their last contest that followed a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).

The Senators are 9-7-2 over those 18 games, leaving them mired in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and ten points out of a playoff spot.  Over those 18 games the Senators have struggled to score, their 2.1 goals per game ranking 26th in the league in scoring offense over that span.

Drake Batherson has seven of the 47 goals scored by the Senators in this stretch to lead the team, bringing his season total to 12 goals in 34 games.  For the fifth-year right winger, this could be a break out season.  Following a pair of 17-goal seasons with abbreviated schedules (one to COVID, the other to an ankle injury for which he missed 28 games), he is on a pace to finish with 29 goals this season.  And, depending on what Claude Giroux (14 goals) and Brady Tkachuk (13 goals) do over the rest of the regular season, he could be only the third 30-goal scorer for Ottawa since 2011-2012 (Tkachuk and Josh Norris did it last season), when Milan Michalek (35 goals) and Jason Spezza (34 goals) did it for Ottawa.

Another number that would (and as the moment does) represent a career best (or worst) is his minus-23 rating.  That is the second-worst among 817 skaters to play this season and is a minus-55 pace over a full season.  Only ten skaters have been on ice for more even strength goals scored against the Senators than Batherson (39 goals against).  Unsurprisingly, the Senators are 3-14-0 in the 17 games in which he posted a negative rating (1-4-0 in the five games in which he posted goals).  Only three times in 34 games did he have a positive rating and none since November 10th when he was plus-1 in a 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey.  What he brings to this game is that he scored goals in each of the first two meetings of these teams this year – a pair of power play goals less than two minutes apart in a 5-2 loss to the Caps on October 20th and a goal in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Caps on December 22nd.  In six career games against the Caps, Batherson is 6-1-7, plus-2.

Nick Holden has been around.  The 12-year veteran has played in 618 games for six different franchises.  And now, in his second season with the Ottawa Senators, he finds himself as the oldest player to skate for the team this season (he will turn 36 in May).  Holden has been a defenseman who managed to carve out a long career without the advantage of being much of an offensive contributor. Since he came into the league in 2010-2011 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, he is one of a dozen defensemen to have logged more than 600 games while posting fewer than 50 goals and fewer than 120 assists. 

This has been a rather typical season for Holden (1-5-6, minus-7, in 29 games).  But he has done well, or more accurately, the team has when he had heavier ice time loads.  In ten games in which he skated 17:30 or more to date, Ottawa is 6-4-0, while they are 7-9-3 in the 19 games he skated less.  He is not an especially physical defender, but in 13 games in which he was credited with two or more hits, Ottawa is 8-3-0.  The Sens are 6-3-2 when he had two or more blocked shots.  His numbers might not show up in the post-game credits, but if he is posting decent totals in underlying numbers, in the grittier, less-rewarded elements of the game, it might be the difference between winning and losing for the Senators.  Holden is 2-2-4, minus-4, in 19 career games against Washington.

Ottawa has dressed three rookies this season for more than 30 games apiece.  Only Montreal has done so with as many.  Centers Shane Pinto (34) and Mark Kastelic (31), and defenseman Jake Sanderson (34) make up the trio.  Pinto leads the group in goals scored (ten, tied for second among all rookies) and points (16, tied for sixth among all rookies).  A second-round (32nd overall) pick in the 2019 Entry Draft, Pinto spent two seasons with the University of North Dakota hockey program, going 31-29-60 in 61 games with the Fighting Hawks.  Over the following two seasons he played in 17 games with Ottawa (preserving his rookie status for this season), posting a goal and seven assists.

Pinto was fast out the gate to start this season.  After going without a point on Opening Night, he recorded single goals in each of his next five games and six of seven overall.  Ottawa was 4-2-0 in those games.  It might have been a signal that he was going to be a scoring force to be reckoned with and an indicator of team success with his scoring, but he has cooled off considerably since that hot start.  In 26 games since, Pinto is 4-5-9, minus-11, and the Sens are just 1-1-1 in the three games in which he posted goals (4-1-2 in the seven games in which he had points).  Of note for this game, Pinto has not scored goal on the road with November 10th when he had a pair in a 4-3 overtime loss in New Jersey to the Devils.  Pinto is 1-1-2, plus-2, in two career games against the Caps.

1.  Ottawa comes into this game with a 6-8-2 record on the road, tied for 27th in the league in points earned (14) and tied for 25th in points percentage (.438).

2.  The Senators’ 2.75 goals per game on the road is the 24th-ranked scoring offense in the league.

3. On the other hand, the Senators’ road power play has been formidable, their 30.9 percent success rate tied for best in the league with Dallas.

4.  Ottawa’s penalty killers are one of one of five teams this season yet to allow a shorthanded goal on the road.

5.  Only Boston and Chicago have scored first in road games fewer times (four and twice, respectively) than the Senators (five times in 16 games).

1.  The Caps have allowed 2.53 goals per game on home ice, the sixth-best scoring defense in the league.

2.  Washington’s 85.0 percent penalty kill on home ice is fourth-best it the league.

3.  Only the New York Islanders have scored fewer first period goals on home ice (six in 17 games) than the Caps (nine in 17 games).

4.  Only five teams have allowed fewer goals in the first period on home ice than the Caps (ten).

5.  Only four teams have had fewer shorthanded situations faced on home ice than the Caps (2.35 per game).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Ottawa: Claude Giroux

Well, he has held up his end of the bargain.  When Claude Giroux signed a three-year/$19.5 million contract with Ottawa last July, he was returnng to the province in which he was born.  Although he is still just 34 years old, it had a bit of the last, play out the string feel as a contract.  But Giroux isn’t playing as if he is ready for retirement soon.  He leads this years Senators team in goals (14), is fifth in assists (15), tied for fourth in points (29), tied for fifth in power play points (11), has one of the two overtime goals scored by a Senator this season, and is tied for second in game-winning goals. 

But what is lost in his contributions is that they have largely gone for naught.  He has at least one goal in 12 games this season, but Ottawa is only 5-7-0 in those games (3-4-0 on the road).  He has points in 19 games, but the Senators are just 8-10-1 in those games (4-4-1 on the road).  He logged at least 17:30 in 21 games, the team is just 6-12-3 in those games.  They have won only once in eight tries when he has at least four shots on goal (1-6-1).  What is more ominous for the Senators, his production has fallen off after a fast start.  Giroux was 8-10-18, plus-2, in his first 17 games (the Sens were just 6-10-1 in those games), while he is 6-5-11, minus-2, in his last 17 games (the team is 9-6-2 over that span).  Odd Giroux fact… he has never had a game-winning goal against Washington, something none of the other 14 active players with more than 30 career points against the Caps can say.  In 58 career games against the Caps, Giroux is 24-28-52, plus-8.  Only four active players have faced the Caps in more regular season games, and only four have recorded more points against Washington.

Washington: Garnet Hathaway

After a brutal start in which he had two goals and four points in his first 30 games, Garnet Hathaway is showing signs of being the contributor he was last season when he had a career high in goals (14) and points (26) in 76 games played.  Over his last seven games, Hathaway is 1-3-4, plus-4.  He has not forsaken his lean toward mischief in doing so.  Over those seven games he is tied for 11th in the league in credited hits (21) and is 14th among 508 players appearing in at least five games in hits per 60 minutes (14.12).  But he has been playing in the rules, too, earning just one minor penalty in those seven games. 

Those penalty minutes are noteworthy in the overall context of his season.  He does have 37 minutes in penalties this season, but almost half of them were earned in a single game, the product of a five-minute fighting, a ten-minute misconduct, and a two-minute minor for tripping in a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on November 11th.  He earned single minor penalties in ten other games.  Given the results of those games, the Caps would just as soon he took none.  Washington was 2-8-0 in those ten games.

It would be better than Hathaway maintain the momentum in the scoring aspect of the game he generated over his last seven games.  The Caps are 5-1-0 in the six games in which he had point so far this season and are 40-12-4 in games in which he posted at least one point in his four seasons with the Caps.  Hathaway is 1-0-1, even, in two career games against Ottawa.

In the end…

After dominating wins in their last two outings against two of the league’s better teams – Winnipeg and the New York Rangers – the Caps enter a soft spot in the schedule with nine consecutive games against teams currently out of the playoff mix.  That string starts Thursday night against Ottawa and is not a time to think about easing off the throttle.

Capitals 5 – Senators 3

Monday, December 26, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Capitals at Rangers, December 27

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to the ice on Tuesday night with a visit to Madison Square Garden for a date with the New York Rangers.  It promises to be one of those “irresistible force meets immovable object” contests, but not in the way you might think.  With the Caps bringing Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dylan Strome, Conor Sheary, and more to this matchup, you would think the “irresistible force” is the Caps.  And with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Igor Shesterkin, in goal for the Rangers, they might be viewed as the “immovable object.”

Well, no, not exactly.  Since Thanksgiving, the Caps have had a productive offense, averaging 3.53 goals per game, tenth in the league in scoring offense.  But it is their defense that has shined, allowing only 2.20 goals per game, third in the league in scoring defense.

On the other side, the Rangers have had a good scoring defense, allowing only 2.71 goals per game, tied for eighth in the league in scoring defense since Thanksgiving, but they have wreaked havoc on opposing goaltenders, averaging 3.71 goals per game, sixth in the league in scoring offense.

That scoring offense has been led in goals by Chris Kreider with seven.  Last season, Kreider posted his first career 50-goal season, finishing the season with 52 goals and obliterating his previous career high of 28 goals with the Rangers in 2016-2017.  But whereas last season was jump started with 16 goals in his first 21 games, this season started slowly for Kreider, who had only four goals in his first 13 games, a respectable 25-goal pace, but less than half of last year’s output.  Kreider has awakened from his early season slumber, though.  He has 12 goals in his last 22 games, a 45-goal pace. 

The odd part about Kreider’s recent goal scoring has been how loosely tied it has been to success.  The Rangers are 3-3-0 in the last six games in which he scored at least one goal and just 6-4-0 in the ten games he scored goals over his 22-game goal scoring run.  It is not even that his overall points scoring has been all that influential on wins, although the Rangers’ record in those games is better than if Kreider is considered only for his goals scored.  In 21 games this season in which he had at least one point, New York is 11-6-4.  Ice time is also an issue, which is not surprising given that the Rangers depend on his production.  Only three times in 13 instances of Kreider skating at least 20 minutes this season did the Rangers win (3-6-4).  Kreider comes into this game with two goals in his last five games, both in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on December 20th, the Rangers’ only loss in their last nine games  He is 9-6-15, even, in 35 career games against the Caps.

The Rangers have had 1,011 players skate for them in their 96 seasons in the NHL.  None have recorded more points per game than Artemi Panarin – 1.31 in 221 games, far more than second-place Jaromir Jagr (1.15 points per game in 277 games with the Rangers).  He is one of only four players in Rangers history to record two seasons with 95 or more points (95 in 2019-2020 and 96 points last season).  Jagr, Mark Messier, and Rod Gilbert are the others.  Over his four seasons with the Rangers, only three players in the league have more points than the 290 he recorded  Connor McDavid (391), Leon Draisaitl (360), and Auston Matthews (291). 

So why, while he is respected as a superior talent, is Panarin not in the conversation all that often among elite point producers in the NHL?  It is an odd situation.  It cannot be his goal scoring, which has been quite consistent over his eight-year career.  For instance, in his previous stops with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets – two seasons with Chicago and two with Columbus – he posted 116 goals in 322 games, a 30-goal pace per 82 games.  In four seasons with the Rangers, Panarin has 80 goals in 221 games, a 30-goal pace per 82 games.  However, he has never led the team in goals over an entire season (he is tied for fourth this season with nine goals in 35 games), but he has led the team in points in each of his three seasons preceding this one and leads this year’s club with 41 points in 35 games.  He has had his ups and downs this season, though. He was 5-11-16 in his first ten games, but then he went 21 games with but one goal (he did have 19 assists).  He has come out of that slump, going 3-3-6, plus-2, in is last four games entering this contest.  Panarin is 10-16-26, plus-8, in 24 career games against Washington.

Adam Fox has led a blessed life, and a cursed one, since he arrived with the New York Rangers in 2019-2020.  His was a career that started modestly, a third-round (66th overall) pick by the Calgary Flames in the 2016 Entry Draft, the 18th defensemen picked in that draft (and, it might interest Caps fans to know, later than Lucas Johansen (28th overall) and former Capital Dennis Chowloski (20th by Detroit)).  He would later be traded to Carolina (with Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm) and then to the Rangers in April 2019 for a second-round draft pick in 2019 and a third-round draft pick in 2020.  In his 2019-2020 rookie season, with the Rangers, Fox dressed for 70 games and finished 8-34-42, plus-22, tied for second among rookie defensemen in goals, third in assists, third in points, and first in plus-minus rating.  He finished fourth in the Calder Trophy voting that year for top rookie, third among rookie defensemen.  Fox followed that up with a 5-42-47, plus-19 in 55 games of the COVID-shortened 2020-2021 season and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.  He was the next new thing in offensive defensemen.

Or maybe not.  One of the defensemen finishing ahead of Fox in the Calder Trophy voting in 2019-2020, the Calder Trophy winner, in fact, was a youngster in Colorado – Cale Makar – a defenseman with the stick handling skills of a top end forward and well-defined hockey sense.  It is Makar, who is as close to a human highlight reel as one will find at the position, who has become the next big thing among offensive defensemen, despite similar statistics over his four seasons (55=154-209, plus-80, in 210 game) to those of Fox (31-167-198, plus-72, in 238 games).  What makes Fox’ numbers noteworthy is how quickly he has climbed up the all-time lists for the Rangers.  Among the 319 defensemen to play for New York in franchise history, he ranks 22nd in goals (31), 16th in assists (167), 16th in points (198), tenth n power play points (82), and tied for ninth in game-winning goals (nine), despite ranking only 40th in games played (238).  In 14 career games against the Caps, Fox is 1-10-11, plus-12.

1.  The Rangers have not been a dominating team on home ice this season.  Their 8-6-4 record is tied for 13th place in points earned on home ice (20, with four other team), and their .556 points percentage ranks 19th in the league.

2.  Scoring on home ice has been an issue for the Rangers.  Their 3.00 goals per game at MSG is the 22nd-ranked scoring offense in the league on home ice.

3.  Scoring defense has been less than impressive, too.  New York has allowed 3.11 goals per game on home ice, tied for 17th in the league in scoring defense.

4.  Scoring first matters in the NHL, especially on home ice, but here the Rangers have come up short by league standards.  They are 6-2-2 in the ten games in which they scored first, their .600 winning percentage tied for 22nd in the league.

5.  If this is a one-goal contest, it could spell bad news for the Rangers. New York is 2-2-4 in one-goal decisions on home ice this season, their .250 wining percentage tied for 29th in the league.

1.  The Caps are 12-3-1 since November 23rd, tied for the league lead in wins over that span, second in points earned (25), and fifth in points percentage (.781).

2.  The penalty kill has been very efficient for the Caps over that 16-game span, their 84.1 percent penalty kill rate ranking third in the league.

3.  Over those 16 games, the Caps recorded 33.7 shots on goal per game (sixth in the league), allowed 28.4 shots per game (fourth-fewest), and their plus-5.3 shot differential per game ranks third ovr that span.

4.  The eight wins by three or more goals among the 12 wins in their 16-game run are tops in the league.

5.  In the 16-game run, the Caps trailed after two periods only three times, going 1-2-0 in those contests.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Igor Shesterkin

It is not 2021-2022 anymore.  Last season, Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin finished sixth in wins (36), first among 65 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes in goals against average (2.07), first in save percentage (.935), third in shutouts (six), first in even strength save percentage (.935; minimum: ten games played), and fifth in number of games allowing two or fewer goals (31, minimum: 50 minutes played per game).  He won 29 of 32 first-place votes for the Vezina Trophy to win going away (154 votes to 53 for Jacob Markstrom) and won 24 first-place votes for the Hart Trophy as league most valuable player, the only goaltender to earn any votes.

This season, things have been different.  Of 63 goalies to date to log at least 500 minutes, Shesterkin ranks ninth in goals against average (2.44), 15th in save percentage (.916), tied for 14th in shutouts (one), 20th in even strength save percentage (.924; minimum: five games played), and tied for seventh in games allowing two or fewer goals (11; minimum: 50 minutes per game).

It isn’t that Shesterkin has played badly, just that this season has put into stark relief just how special – and perhaps unique – his 2021-2022 season was. He has been rather consistent this season – 6-2-2, 2.58, .910, with one shutout in his first ten games; 4-2-2, 2.61, .916 in his next eight games.  But now, he is ramping up his game.  He is 7-1-0 in his last eight games with a 2.11 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.  Over that span is second among all goalies in wins (the Caps’ Charlie Lindgren has eight), tenth in goals against (minimum: 200 minutes), and 12th in save percentage.  Shesterkin is 4-1-0, 2.22, .935 in five career games against the Caps.

Washington: Dylan Strome

One has to think, and Caps fans have to hope, that there is an eruption about to take place in the name of Dylan Strome.  In his first 18 games this season with the Caps, he posted five goals on 33 shots, a 15.2 shooting percentage.  With 13 points overall, he was on a pace for a 23-36-59 season.  He looked like a steal with a one-year/$3.5 million “show me” contract.  He was showing folks that an extension was merited.  But over his last 18 games he is 1-11-12, his lone goal coming on 29 shots (3.4 shooting percentage), although the goal was the game-winner in a 4-1 win over Philadelphia on December 7th.

The Caps have not really missed his drop in output, going 12-4-2 in those 18 games.  But what sticks out in his production over those 18 games is that he is 1-8-9 in ten road games, tied for third in points for Caps on the road over that stretch.  He has not had a home or road weighted level of performance this season.  His splits are very balanced – 3-9-12, minus-4, in 17 home games, 3-10-13, minus-5, n 19 road games.  But hose minus levels are a issue.  His minus-7 goal differential at even strength overall is worst on the team this season, and in only two of his last eight games was he a plus player in this category.  It matter.  Strome has been on ice for at least one even strength goal against in 18 games this season, and the Caps are 7-8-3 in those games.  On the other hand, the Caps are 9-5-1 in the 18 games in which he was on ice for an even strength goal scored by Washington.

There is also a bordering on the bizarre fact about his ice time.  In 13 games in which Strome skated 17 or more minutes, the Caps are 4-7-2.  They are 15-6-2 in 23 games in which he skated less than 17 minutes.  It has been an odd season for the seven-year vet in some ways, although on balance he gives evidence of being productive center for years to come.  The goal scoring drought seems more hiccup than chronic malady, but Caps fans would no doubt like to see those goals flowing freely once more to give balance to that on-ice goal differential.  Strome is 1-4-5, minus-3, in five career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

On November 22nd, the Caps were 7-10-3, seventh in the Metropolitan Division and 13th in the Eastern Conference standings.  In five weeks, the Caps climbed into the second wild-card spot, and with a win over the Rangers in regulation in this contest would jump into the first wild-card spot and could, with a Pittsburgh Penguins regulation loss to the New York Islanders, jump into third place in the Metropolitan Division.  The Caps are in the thick of it now, and they need to stand on the gas pedal as the year comes to a close.  There would be no better place to do this than in New York on Tuesday night.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2


Sunday, December 25, 2022

We Interrupt Our Hockey for... Figgy Pudding SPAM!!!

We take a break from hockey for a moment to bring you a public service.  You might have heard that Hormel Foods, the folks who bring us SPAM, got into the holiday spirit and offered us “Figgy Pudding SPAM” to enhance the holiday experience with flavored canned meat.  We decided to see what this was all about and purchased a can.  But we were getting cold feet about actually trying it.  However, as today is Christmas, the season of miracles, we finally succumbed to the charms of “FPS” – Figgy Pudding SPAM – and gave it a try.  Here, we share with you our experience.

And here we have the star of the show in all its packaging splendor.  If you have no idea what “figgy pudding” is or that it is a traditional staple of Christmas, the holly on top of the SPAMwreath on the plate gives it away.  The “flavor, spice, and everything nice” is a nice touch, too, although the “flavor” thing is a bit ominous.

Here, FPS takes its place of honor among the other items in our Christmas breakfast repast – two farm-fresh eggs and whole grain bread that will be toasted to a golden brown, the perfect complements to the figginess of the SPAM.

We decided to take a look at the ingredients, to see just what we were getting into, and we see that “pork with ham” is the main ingredient (although ham being a pork product, there seems to be a bit of redundancy here).  Sugar is next on the list, which I suppose would not be surprising, the sweetness being a part of the “figgy” experience.  After that, the ingredients read like something I might have found in my Organic Chemistry 351 class in college.  And of course, there is the propylene glycol, so if my car runs low on anti-freeze, I can just add a few spoonfuls of this concoction.  Note: no figs.

When we moved on to the nutrition facts, the first thing that hit us was the absence of dietary fiber.  Good thing we added the two slices of whole grain toast to the menu.  And those percentages of daily values for total fat, cholesterol, and sodium…yeesh.  Makes fruitcake soaked in egg nog almost seem like health food.

Opening the traditional pull-tab covering to reveal the treasure within, we find that FPS has the familiar look of traditional SPAM – vaguely meat-like and with the pure geometry that the SPAM “chunk” has that we have grown to know, if not exactly love. 

And here is the de-canned product in all its schloopy goodness.  One would be hard pressed to find someone who did not recognize this for what it is – America’s favorite canned meat product.  And many among you have your SPAM stories to tell, no doubt.  I just about lived on this stuff when I was working on clean-up crews after the Tropical Storm Agnes flood of 1972. SPAM on white bread..ahh, memories.

But back to the matter at hand (and we must concede that SPAM is, in fact, composed of matter).  Here is the finished product, ready to be served and consumed with a glass of egg nog in what is sure to be another fond holiday memory that we will cherish to the end of our days…or at least until later this afternoon.

So, what is the verdict?  FPS has the vaguely “spackle-like” texture one associates with the traditional product.  That is not a complement.  It is easy to slice, though.  A spork would probably do.  As for cooking it, it does brown nicely in the skillet, although not a brown I would associate with any artist’s palette.  As for the flavor…

Try as I might, one slice is all I could choke down.  I cannot compare its taste to anything known in the food world.  It has the mouth feel of wet cement.  The folks who make this stuff use the catch line, “sizzle, pork, and mmmm,” a play on the name.  What came to mind for us was “Stop Posing As Meat!”

On a scale of four twinkle lights, we give FPS...well, let's not go there.