Monday, January 31, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 46: Capitals at Penguins, February 1st

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

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 16

It was a losing week for the Washington Capitals in Week 16, but oddly enough, it wasd a week that had a spark of hope that their long, difficult January might give way to a more successful February. 

Record (1-2-0)

It is rare indeed when a 1-2-0 record might have the word “encouraging” attached to it, but from out chair, that word fits. It was a week in which the defense showed up and goaltending, well, one goaltender shined. But before we think a 1-2-0 record is a good thing, keep in mind that this was the third week in the last six in which the Caps had a losing record. Add the two break-even weeks in this six-week run, and it adds up to an extended poor stretch over which the Caps went 6-7-2, their .467 points percentage tied for 21st in the league over that span. 

Offense: 2.00 / game (season: 3.18 / 11th)

It was not a good week in the offensive end. The Caps finished tied for the fifth-lowest goals per game for the week. Six different Caps recorded a single goal – Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Daniel Sprong, and Connor McMichael. For van Riemsdyk, it was his first goal of the season and snapped a 55-game streak without one dating back to last season. 

Nicklas Backstrom led the way with four points – figuring in on two-thirds of the goals scored by the Caps in Week 16. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Connor McMichael were the other Caps to register multi-point weeks (two apiece). 

It was a bit of a frustrating week for Alex Ovechkin, who led the Caps with 15 shots on goal in the three games. His three-game streak without a goal follows on to a more productive stretch of five goals in five games. John Carlson’s goal in Week 17 snapped a six=game streak without a point, while McMichael ended a seven-game streak without a goal when he scored against Dallas in the 5-0 win to end the week. 

Defense: 1.67 / game (season: 2.67 / 7th) 

When the Caps allowed the San Jose Sharks 30 shots on goal in the middle game of the week, it was only the 18th time in 44 games that the Caps allowed 30 or more shots. They finished the week tied with Dallas for fourth fewest games allowing 30 or more shots on goal. The Caps did not quite get to 30 in their 5-0 win over the Stars, getting to 29 in the win. 

Among the 14 teams to play three games in Wee 16, the Caps allowed 141 shot attempts at 5-on-5, tied for eighth-fewest with Carolina in that group. Their minus-2 shot attempt differential was seventh-best among that group. 

Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller were on ice for three of the four 5-on-5 goals scored against the Caps for the week. 

Goaltending: 1.36 / .954 / 1 shutout (season: 2.52 / .910 / 6 shutouts) 

It was “Viva Vitek” in Week 16. In two games and 118 minutes of play, Vitek Vanecek stopped 57 of 58 shots on goal (.983 save percentage, best in the league for the week) and had a 0.51 goals against average (also best in the league for the week). January has been kind to Vanecek, who is 4-2-0, 2.00, .929, with two shutouts for the month. The 5-0 shutout against the Stars gave him two shutouts in three road games this month and the second-best road save percentage (.953) in the league in January among goalies with at least three road games played (Robin Lehner: .957). 

It was not so much that Ilya Samsonov was poor in his lone game of the week, only that it paled next to Vanecek’s performance. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in a 4-1 loss to San Jose, one of those goals coming after he was knocked down and looked a bit groggy afterward in the third period of that loss. It ended a rather unfortunate month for Samsonov – 0-3-1, 3.84, .876. This is concerning, given that his save percentage has dropped from .919 in November to .895 in December, and now to .876 this month. 

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season:  percent 15.2 percent / 30th). 

A second straight week at 20 percent on the power play. It might not sound like much, but it is the first time the Caps put together consecutive weeks at 20 or more percent since Weeks 6 and 7, when they were 25.0 percent in each week, the only other time this season they posted consecutive 20-plus percent on the power play. 

What was encouraging about the power play was the “who” as much as the “how many.” John Carlson had one of the power play strikes, his first power play goal since November 24th, breaking a 20-game streak without a power play goal and his first power play point since November 28th, an 18-game streak broken. 

Tom Wilson had the other power play goal, his third of the season, and it was scored from the axle of the 1-3-1 formation, where the Caps’ production has been lacking most of this season, in no small part due to the absence of T.J. Oshie, who normally mans that spot on the top power play unit.  

Penalty Killing: 8-for-8 / 100.0 percent (season: 81.4 percent / 13th)

After two weeks over which the Caps went 13-for-20 on the penalty kill (65.0 percent), a perfect week was the perfect tonic for a penalty kill that was doing precious little killing. It was the seventh week in 16 in which the Caps were 100 percent on the PK that, while appreciated, is in curious balance with six weeks in 16 in which they were 75 percent or lower. 

If there was a downside, it was that the Caps trended to the high side of shorthanded situations per game (2.67) relative to the rest of the league (they were tied for sixth-most in the league for the week. 

Faceoffs: 75-for-169 / 44.4 percent
(46.1 percent / 31st)

Another sub-50 percent week, and a pattern of performance seems to have settled in. Nic Dowd is clearly the best in show when it comes to this skill on this team (team-leading 51.4 percent for the season (players in more than ten games) and 59.1 percent for Week 16). Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller have had their moments but have been inconsistent (Backstrom at 49.4 percent for the season, Eller at 48.8 percent). Evgeny Kuznetsov has been consistently poor in this area (43.1 percent, 120th of 135 skaters to take 200 or more draws). 

Again, the performance was consistent across the three zones, and not in a good way, although the Caps as a team were only one faceoff loss under 50 percent in the defensive zone for the week. In the offensive zone, Eller and Kuznetsov had their troubles, while in the defensive zone, it was Backstrom having difficulties. Only Dowd – no surprise here – was 50 percent or better in all three zones for the week among Caps who took ten or more faceoffs. 

Goals by Period

The Caps started well, generally, with a plus-2 first period goal differential and finished decently, a minus-1 differential, but one of the goals against was an empty-netter. It was a close week by period, an indicator of how close the Caps were, even considering the multi-goal loss to San Jose, to having a very good week. Margins of victory and defeat in the NHL are often razor thin. 

The two goals yielded by the Caps in three second periods were a good sign for a team that finished their January with 16 second period goals allowed, tied for second most in the league. 


Recent weeks have seen a slippage in year-to-year comparisons with last year’s squad, and Week 16 was not an exception. This year’s team has exchanged wins for extra time points (five fewer wins, five more extra time losses). Goals scored and goals allowed are both down from last year, the good and the bad, as it were. This year’s team still has a healthy lead on last year’s team in shots on goal and shot attempts at 5-on-5, and it still does a better job of playing within the confines of the rule book with penalties taken and penalty minutes both reduced from last season. But what sticks out like a sore thumb is the power play, which despite consecutive 20-percent weeks, trails last year’s club badly in power play efficiency. 

In the end… 

January is in the books, and the Caps might want to toss that book in the Potomac River. It was not a good month for a team that started it tied for the most standings points in the league (47, with Tampa Bay) and finished it tied for eighth in standings points and 12th in points percentage for the season. If there is a takeaway from Week 16, it is that the Caps still have it in them for dominating performances, illustrated by their 5-0 win over Dallas to end the week. The trick as the team heads into February is to string games like his together rather than have them an infrequent occurrence. 

Three Stars 

  • First Star: Vitek Vanecek (1-1-0, 0.51, .983, one shutout) 
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (1-3-4, even, six shots on goal, eight shot attempts, no giveaways) 
  • Third Star: Garnet Hathaway (0-0-0, minus-1, 14 credited hits (tied for team lead), seven blocked shots (led team))

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 45: Capitals at Stars, January 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! 

Excellent, good, meh, bad, ugly. The Washington Capitals have been all of these at one time or another this season. Unfortunately for them and for their fans, that order seems to be that through which the Caps have progressed this season, passing "bad" and have entered the “ugly" phase after their 2-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. And now, they head to Dallas to close out a forgettable January when they meet the Stars at American Airlines Center on Friday night. 

Dallas is a formidable team on home ice, going 13-2-0 at home since a 1-2-1 start. That 13-2-0 record (.867) is second-best in the league in points percentage since it started on November 13th (Colorado is 16-0-0). Dallas has been successful at home in no small part due to a prolific and balanced offense. They have 17 players who have recorded at least one goal in their 14-4-1 overall home record. Twenty of 26 skaters who dressed for home games have at least one point. 

Roope Hintz leads the Stars in goals scored on home ice (13 in 18 games) and seems poised to be the next thing in goal scoring. Now in his fourth NHL season, he is on a pace to score 40 goals overall, a mark that would far eclipse his career best to date (19 in 60 games in 2019-2020). Over his three full seasons with the Stars, Hintz ranks 15th in goals per 60 minutes (1.15; minimum: 100 games played), but this year he stands eighth at 1.50 goals per 60 minutes (minimum: 20 games played). What argues for his being an emerging elite goal scorer is his efficiency. In his three full seasons with Dallas, his shooting percentage has jumped from 15.8 percent to 16.3 percent last season and to 17.0 percent overall this season. Of 251 players to record 250 or more shots on goal over the last three seasons, Hintz’ aggregate 16.4 percent ranks 17th. Hintz comes into this game on a hot streak with single goals in each of his last four games, oddly enough, all on the road. Hintz is 1-1-2, minus-2, n three career games against Washington. 

Dallas has three players with 20 or more points in home games so far this season. Joe Pavelski (27 points) surprise there. Roope Hintz we just looked at him (23). Jason Robertson is the third member of the club (23 points). California might be underrated as a cradle of hockey players (Auston Matthews and Brooks Orpik both were born there for example) and Robertson might be a star that emerges from the Golden State. He will almost certainly become the 20th player born in California to have appeared in at least 100 games later this season (he has 86 games under his belt), and he has shown considerable improvement in performance in his brief three-year career to date. From a three-game cup of coffee two years ago, he recorded 17 goals in 51 games last season and finished second in Calder Trophy voting as top rookie to Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov. With 16 goals in 32 games so far this season he is on a pace to finish with 37 goals this season. He has eight of those goals in his last 12 games, although he was blanked in his last two contests. This would be his first game against Washington. 

So what is it going to be? Or perhaps more to the point, where is it going to be. Earlier this month, contract talks between the Stars and defenseman John Klingberg were stalled, and the player was frustrated -- "For me, as a player, I don't feel that I've been appreciated that way when we don't even negotiate." He continued playing through his frustration, but an upper-body injury has reduced him to say-to-day status. The injury complicates any trade, which seems an all-but-realized outcome for the eight-year veteran who has spent his entire career with Dallas after the Stars drafted him in the fifth round (131st overall, the 40th defenseman taken in the 2010 Entry Draft after Erik Gudbranson, after Dylan McIlrath, after Jarred Tinordi, after Radko Gudas, among others). The frustration has seemed to wear on Klingberg a bit. He has five points in his last eight games, all assists, but four of them came in a 5-4 win over Buffalo on January 20th, and he is 11 games without a goal. Were Klingberg to play, unlikely as that might be, he is 0-8-8, plus-1, in 11 career games against the Caps. 

1.  Dallas’ special teams on home ice are a Jekyll and Hyde act – fourth in the league on the power play (28.8 percent) and 22nd on the penalty kill (78.6 percent). 

2. How does Dallas do it on home ice, Part I... The Stars rank just 17th in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (51.2 percent). 

3. Part II... tenth in winning percentage when scoring first (.846/11-1-1). 

4. Part III... 17th in power play chances per game (3.11), 

5. Part IV... 17th in 5-on-5 goals scored (42). 

1.  As bad as the Caps have been lately, they are still fifth in the league in win percentage on the road (.650/11-5-4). 

2. That road record, oddly enough, has been built on defense and goaltending, the 2.65 goals allowed per game ranking fifth in the league. 

3. Washington ranks 30th in the league in special teams index on the road (86.2 -- 10.7 percent power play, 75.5 percent penalty kill) 

4. The Caps have allowed only 31 goals at 5-on-5 on the road, third fewest in the league, and they have scored 49 goals at 5-on-5, fifth most in the league. 

5. Washington has scored first in 15 of 20 road games, second most in the league, but their win percentage (.533/8-5-2) ranks 21st. 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder 

Dallas: Braden Holtby 

The last game that Braden Holtby played for the Caps was, by that time, typically disappointing. Facing a former Caps goaltender in Semyon Varlamov in the first round of the 2020 playoffs, he stopped 13 of 15 shots and watched from the bench as the New York Islanders added a pair of empty net goals to end the Caps’ season, 4-0. It capped a 2-6, 2.49, .903 playoff record for Holtby, who from his first postseason in 2012 until that 2020 postseason had more playoff game wins than any other goaltender (48), had the third best goals against average (2.09; minimum: 500 minutes), sixth best save percentage (.928; minimum: 500 minutes), and tied for third most shutouts (seven). But he was simply not the goalie who backstopped the Caps to the 2018 Stanley Cup. In the two seasons that followed, he had an enviable win-loss rec0rd (57-33-11), but his performance numbers – a 2.96 goals against average and a .905 save percentage – were unremarkable. He moved on. 

First to Vancouver in 2020-2021 and then to Dallas this season, his numbers have not been especially impressive, an aggregate 16-19-4, 3.15, .902, with no shutouts. He has, at time, shown glimpses of the better past with Dallas this season, but he has been inconsistent. He has two three-game winning streak this season, including currently, and he has had the misfortune of occasional lack of goal support in front of him. He does have eight games with save percentages over .940 among his 21 appearances overall, and he has been effective on home ice (4-2-0, 2.51 ,919), although the net seems to belong to Jake Oettinger these days. As it is, Holtby is mentioned more as a trading asset than he is as far as having much of a future with the Stars, and he has been linked to the Capitals as a possible landing spot in a trade. A goalie with a 3.01 goals against average and a .904 save percentage over the last three and a half seasons would not seem to be a goalie to lead a team to a Cup, but stranger things have happened in the NHL. Should he get the call on Friday, Caps fans will get a chance to reminisce about days gone by, but the Holtby of the present does not appear to resemble that goaltender. This would be his first appearance against his old team. 

Washington: Trevor van Riemsdyk 

Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk has never been much of a goal scorer from the blueline. He has never posted more than five goals in a season. But he did have at least one in the last six seasons. “Did” would be the operative word here. He has yet to light the lamp this season, going 39 games and 47 shots on goal without one. He is one of ten skaters in the league to have recorded at least 45 shots on goal without scoring one. What might be more disturbing, though, is that while he ranks last in even strength ice time per game among six Caps defenseman (15:25) appearing in at least 30 games, he has been on ice for 29 even strength goals against, second most on the team (John Carlson: 32 while averaging 17:59 in even strength ice time per game). It is not especially surprising because even though all six Caps defensemen to dress for at least 30 games have positive shot attempts-for percentages at 5-on-5, van Riemsdyk ranks last in that group (50.2 percent). On the good side, though, van Riemsdyk has 11 assists. Even if he does not score a goal, he is on a pace (22 points) to pass his career best in points (16 in 58 games with Chicago in 2016-2017. Van Riemsdyk is 2-2-4, plus-4, in 16 career games against Dallas. 

In the end.. 

5-0-3.. excellent 


6-3-2 (20-6-7 through December 31st)...meh 

And then... 

3-6-2 in January, one win in regulation, 25th in points percentage. The Caps by-passed “bad” and went straight to “ugly.” If there is a silver lining in this thunderstorm cloud, it is that the Caps still have the fifth-best road record in the league, based on points percentage. But here, too, they have slipped, losing three of their last four games away from Capital One Arena. January cannot end fast enough for this team. End it on a winning note, even if you must go to the Gimmick to settle it. 

Capitals 2 Stars 1