The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals have completed the home portion of their season series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and embark on the road portion of the series on Tuesday night when they visit PPG Paints Arena to face the Pens. The Caps split the two games against the Penguins at Capital One Arena but will face a team in the Pens who, after posting an eight-game winning streak on home ice, have lost their last three home games, two of them in extra time.
Their recent home woes aside, the Penguins remain a top-ten team in scoring offense on home ice. And what is odd about that is who stands at the top of the individual scoring rankings for the Pens on home ice. Bryan Rust is second on the team in goals scored at home (nine) and leads the team in points (20). His 1.67 points per game is comfortably in front of the rest of his teammates (Sidney Crosby is second at 1.27 points per game). Rust has been one of those under the radar players who elicits some surprise when his production is brought up. Over the five seasons preceding this one, the former third-round draft pick of the Pens (2010 Entry Draft) registered a scoring line of 95-104-199, plus-48 in 309 games, a 25-28-53, plus-13 line per 82 games. This season might have been an especially successful one for Rust if not for having missed almost half the season (22 of 45 games) to COVID and lower body injuries. As it is, he is still on a pace for a career season, even if he manages to avoid any further absences this season. At his current pace, he would finish 31-47-78, plus-21, in only 60 games this season. Rust is 8-8-16, minus-2, in 25 career games against Washngton.
Next on the points ranking on home ice for the Pens this season is another “who is he” sort of player. Evan Rodrigues is 10-9-19, plus-2, at PPG this season. Rodrigues was an undrafted amateur originally signed by the Buffalo Sabres in April 2015. He played parts of five seasons with the Sabres until he was traded with future Capital Conor Sheary the Penguins for Dominik Kahun in February 2020. Six months later he was traded with a 2020 first-round draft pick, Filip Hallander and David Warsofsky to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Pontus Aberg, Kasperi Kapanen and Jesper Lindgren. Less than two months after that trade, he was signed back as a free agent by the Penguins. He did not impress to any great degree in his first season and change with Pittsburgh, going 8-7-15, minus-3, in 42 games. But this sesson he, like Rust, is demolishing his career best offensive numbers to date, going 15-17-32, plus-7, in 45 games, a 27-31-58, plus-13 pace over 82 games. However, he seems to have hit a wall, going 0-2-2, minus-2, in his last 12 games overall.
Kris Letang has anchored the Penguin defense for going on 16 seasons, and he leads the blue line in points (40), but he is not the team leader in goals scored among defensemen. Mike Matheson holds that distinction with six goals in 42 games played. Matheson was taken in the first round of the 2012 Entry Draft by the Florida Panthers, 23rd overall and one pick after the Pens selected defenseman Olli Maatta. He played for five seasons with the Panthers, posting a record as a reasonably effective offensive defensemen with 20 or more points in each of his last three seasons in Florida. He was traded with Colton Sceviour to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Patric Hornqvist in September 2020. His season and a half in Pittsburgh might be described as “consistent.” He was 5-11-16, plus-9, with the Pens last season and is 6-12-18, plus-7, in 42 games so far this season. Matheson has been something of a good luck charm with his scoring, the Pens going 11-1-1 in the 13 games in which he posted at least one point. The regulation loss in which he scored a point came against the Caps in a 6-1 loss to Washington on November 14th. Ice time might be an area to watch with him. Pittsburgh is 6-5-4 in the 15 games in which Matheson skated at least 19 minutes. Matheson is 1-5-6, plus-6, in 18 career games against the Capitals.
1. Pittsburgh has employed 28 skaters so far this season. Only two – John Marino and Evsn Rodrigues – have appeared in all 45 games.
2. Of those 28 skaters, 26 have points, and 16 of them have reached double digits in points. Six have at least ten goals.
3. Don’t count on getting a break from the officials when it comes to power play chances. Pittsburgh has the second fewest shorthanded situations faced per game on home ice this season (2.35).
4. Pittsburgh is one of six teams in the league without a shorthanded goal on home ice.
5. The Penguins have allowed only ten first period goals on home ice this season, third-fewest in the league.
1. Do not be surprised if the first period of this game goes scoreless. The Caps have allowed the fewest first period goals on the road (ten).
2. Washington is last in the league in faceoff winning percentage on the road (44.3 percent).
3. The Caps are tied for third in the league in 5-on-5 goals scored in road games (52, with Toronto and Tampa Bay), and they have allowed the second-fewest 5-on-5 goals in road games (31).
4. The Capitals have scored first 16 times in 21 road games, tied with Florida for most in the league. Unfortunately, their .563 winning percentage (9-5-2) ranks 22nd.
5. Washington is 2-3-4 in one-goal decisions on the road, their .222 winning percentage tied for fourth-worst in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Pittsburgh: Tristan Jarry
Tied for third in the league in wins among goalies (23), fourth in goals against average (2.17; minimum: 1,000 minutes), fifth in save percentage (.925), tied for fourth in shutouts (three), and for good measure, third in penalty minutes (six). Tristan Jarry is not likely to figure prominently in the Vezina Trophy voting this season, but he might be the Penguins’ most valuable player. He has allowed two or fewer goals in 23 full games played, second most in the league behind Nashville’s Juuse Saros (27). And, he has been consistent with respect to venue. Jarry is 11-4-3, 2.31, .924 on home ice, 12-4-2, 2.03, .926 on the road. the major difference, an odd one at that, is that all three of his shutouts and all of his penalty minutes have come on the road. His season cleaves neatly into two pieces. He started the season with decent underlying numbers, although his win-loss situation did not reflect it, going 5-4-3, 2.52, .917 in his first dozen games. Since then, starting with a shutout of the Montreal Canadiens on November 18th, he is 18-4-2, 1.98, .929, with three shutouts; first in wins over that span, second in goals against average (minimum: 500 minutes), fourth in save percentage, and tied for first in shutouts. Only four times in the 24 games he played over that stretch did he allow more than three goals. He does, however seem to have hit a skid. In his last eight games his save percentage is just .900, and he allowed more than three goals on three occasions. Odd Jarry fact... Tristan Jarry was the second goalie taken in the 2012 Entry Draft (44th overall) behind the Caps’ Zach Fucale (36th overall by Montreal). Jarry is 5-3-0, 2.87, .909, with one shutout in his career against the Caps.
Washington: Tom Wilson
The player everyone loves to hate is, perhaps, hated most in Pittsburgh. Wilson is the active leader among Capitals in penalty minutes taken against the Penguins (64 in 35 games), but it is not the only dimension to his game, against this or any other team these days. Wilson started the season strongly, going 8-15-23, plus-14, in his first 23 games, one of three Caps over that stretch to average a point per game (Alex Ovechkin (1.61) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (1.17) were the others). He went cold after that, going 1-0-1, minus-8, over his next ten games, but he has come alive of late, going 4-2-6, plus-2, in his last eight games. Three of the four goals in this stretch were game-winners. Wilson has expanded the range of his game. Among Caps playing in more than ten games, he is second only to Alex Ovechkin in points per 60 minutes (2.13) and second only to T.J. Oshie in shooting efficiency (17.4 percent). Despite his reputation for taking penalties (he is tied with Dmitry Orlov in penalties taken with 17), he is tied with Evgeny Kuznetsov for the team lead in penalties drawn (14). He and John Carlson are the only Caps to have averaged more than 2:30 in power play ice time and more than 1:30 in penalty killing ice time. He might be the best all-around forward on the team, combining a scoring touch with tenacity and versatility. Wilson is 8-4-12, minus-7, in 35 career games against Pittsburgh.
In the end...
It might not be a playoff game, but a Capitals-Penguins matchup is always an event. The Caps might have a bit more motivation than usual, having seen the Penguins pass them in the standings and not wanting the Penguins to open up too large a margin in the standings. What we notice about outcomes of Capitals games is that they are second in the league in winning percentage in two-goal decisions (.833/10-2). While Pittsburgh is first in that category (.857/6-1), we are thinking the Caps will reverse the rankings in this one.
Capitals 4 – Penguins 2