Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 55: Maple Leafs at Capitals, February 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to Capital One Arena for the first time since February 13 when they close out February against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The Caps will be looking to climb out of a hole of recent despair. Hoping to get a spark on the road after losing five in a row on home ice, the Caps split a four-game road trip, losing the last two contests and blunting any momentum they might have been generating on the road.  Meanwhile, the Leafs have come back from a 2-4-1 stretch to win their last two games, including a 10-7 mauling of the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

Toronto is a highly skilled offensive team.  The fourth-best scoring offense in the league (3.65 goals per game) boasts seven players with at least ten goals and 18 with at least ten points.  They are led in both categories by Auston Matthews (37-31-68), the league’s top goal scorer and perhaps latest contestant to topple Alex Ovechkin from his perch as the league’s most dangerous goal scorer.  Matthews has been a consistent producer in his six seasons in the league, topping 30 goals in each season (40 or more three times) and 60 points in each season (more than 70 twice).  He seems assured of posting his fourth 40-goal season (he has 37) and his third 70-plus points season (he has 68) and could accomplish both feats in this game.  His 236 goals over his six NHL seasons to date rank second to Ovechkin (237) in 27 fewer games than the Caps’ star.  This season, his nine multi-goal games rank second in the league, trailing only Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, and only the New York Rangers’ Chris Kreider has goals in more games (27), than Matthews (26, tied with Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor).  And when he scores, the Leafs win, going 19-4-3 in those 26 games in which he has goals.  Matthews is on a three-game goal scoring streak going into this game, each of them a multi-point game as well (4-5-9, plus-9, overall).  He is 5-6-11, plus-3, in ten career games against Washington.

One of the key factors in the Maple Leafs’ prolific offense is the contribution they get from the defense.  Six of the 11 defensemen to dress for Toronto this season have at least ten points, led by Morgan Rielly (6-37-43).  Rielly is in his ninth season in the league and has developed into one of its most dangerous offensive weapons from the blue line.  His career started solidly in this regard, posting more than 25 points in each of his first four seasons, although he also had dismal results in his plus-minus rating, which was a combined minus-66 to go with his 25 goals and 119 points in 312 games.  Since then, though, his offensive production has exploded.  In 312 games over five seasons since (yes, the same number of games), including this one, Rielly is 40-189-229, plus-46.  Those 229 points rank fifth among all defensemen over the last five seasons, and his goal scoring has been timely, 11 of his 40 goals being game-winners.  Rielly is in, what is for him, a bit of a slump, going without a point over his last three games, tying his longest such streak of the season, which he has had on five occasions.  Rielly is 1-11-12, minus-3, in 20 career games against the Caps.

Goaltending has been something of an issue for Toronto for years.  Since the 2004-2005 lockout, 18 Maple Leaf goalies have logged at least 500 minutes, and only one – Curtis McElhinney – had a save percentage over .920 (.925 in 32 games and 1,737 minutes).  The number one goalie for the moment – Jack Campbell – is second on that list with a .918 save percentage in 66 games and 3,818 minutes of play.  Campbell is in his seventh NHL season and with his third NHL team since being taken with the tenth overall pick of the 2010 Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars (he also has a stint with the Los Angeles Kings Stars on his resume).  In 38 games this season, he has set a career high for games played (38), wins (23), and shutouts (four).  He does have quite a difference in his home and road performance, though, going 14-4-1, 2.07, .929, with three shutouts on home ice, but 9-4-3, 3.08, .906, with one shutout on the road.  He has struggled mightily in stopping pucks lately, despite a decent win-loss record.  In his last 11 games he is 5-3-1 (two no-decisions), 3.92, .869.  Campbell is 0-1-0, 3.11, .857 in one appearance against the Caps in his career.

1.  Toronto leads the league in faceoff winning percentage (56.3 percent).

2.  Only Florida has more first period goals scored (68) than the Maple Leafs (62).

3.  The Leafs lead the league in shorthanded goals scored (eight) and are second in power play goals scored (42).

4.  Toronto and Colorado are the only teams in the league with winning percentages over .600 in one, two, and three goal decisions (Toronto is 13-3-4 in one goal games/.692; 5-3 in two-goal games/.625; and 16-8 in three-goal decisions/.667).

5.  The Maple Leafs can be sloppy with the puck.  Their 9.98 giveaways per 60 minutes are fourth-most in the league.

1.  The Caps are reasonably protective of the puck, their 6.81 giveaways per 60 minutes being seventh-best in the league.

2.  Washington’s 3.23 penalties taken per 60 minutes are third-fewest in the league; only four teams have taken fewer major penalties than the Caps (seven).

3.  The 44 goals allowed by the Capitals in the third periods of games are fourth-fewest in the league.

4.  Washington has six shorthanded goals this season, tied for fifth-most in the league.  Five different players have scored shorthanded, Evgeny Kuznetsov the only one with two.

5.  The Caps have 26 game winning goals this season; Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson have combined for almost a third of them with four apiece.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Mitch Marner

Mitch Marner might not be the “enigmatic” player that Evgeny Kuznetsov has been from time to time as a Capital, but he has been something of a curiosity.  A player of considerable offensive skill, he has yet to post a 30-goal season and has topped 70 points just once.  That is changing.  His 98-point outlier season in 2018-2019 gave ample evidence of what Marner is capable of, and it was the first of four seasons, including this one, in which he averaged more than a point per game.  Over those four seasons, Marner has averaged 1.18 points per game, 12th in the league over that span, just behind teammate Auston Matthews’ 1.20 points per game for the team lead.  And, for an “offensive” player he has both a respectable plus-minus rating (plus-66 over the last four years, tied for 14th in the league), and he eats minutes to the tune of 21:00 per game over that period (almost a minute more than Matthews’ 20:19).  And when Marner scores, it is a virtual lock that Toronto wins, going 14-1-0 in the 15 games in which he has goals and 23-2-1 in he 26 games in which he has points.  Nevertheless, he seems to operate largely in the shadow of Matthews and his dominating goal scoring.  Marner is 15-18-33, plus-12, in his last 17 games, including four goals and two assists in the Leafs’ 10-7 win over Detroit on Saturday.  He became the 17th player in Toronto history to record at least one game with six or more points and the first since Mats Sundin went 4-2-6 in a 6-5 overtime win over Florida on April 11, 2006.  Marner is 3-4-7, minus-6, in 11 career games against the Capitals.

Washington: Connor McMichael

A native of Ajax, Ontario, just east of Toronto, one might expect that Connor McMichael’s first game against the Maple Leafs will be memorable, whatever the outcome for the team or for the player personally.  McMichael has had a decent season in his rookie class, tied for 16th among rookie forwards in goals (seven), tied for 15th in assists, and 16th in points (15).  Those rankings might be a bit higher had he averaged more than the 10:24 in ice time per game he logged so far this season, 46th among 67 rookie forwards appearing in at least ten games.  He has settled into a rather ordinary pattern, though.  If you look at his ten-game splits, he went 2-3-5, even, with 11;30 in average ice time in his first ten games.  He followed that up with 0-2-2, minus-2/12:12 per game over his next ten games, followed that up with 2-0-2, plus-1/9:51 per game in his 21-30 game split; 1-2-3, minus-1/8:55 per game in games 31-40; and is 2-1-3, plus-1/9:28 in games 41-49 on his ledger this season.  While it might seem unusual for a 25th overall draft pick to get as little exposure as McMichael has had in his rookie season, consider that while he is 7-8-15, minus-1, in 49 games overall; Phillip Tomasino, taken by Nashville with the pick preceding McMichael, is 7-10-17, minus-5, averaging 11:21 in ice time 47 games in this, his rookie season.  The odd part of McMichael’s production is how weak a relationship it bears to wins and losses, where one might expect secondary scoring supplements offensive efforts in a way that translates to win.  The Caps are just 3-2-2 in the seven games in which McMichael has goals, 7-4-2 when he recorded at least one point.  This will be his first appearance against Toronto.

In the end…

The Caps are in a rut, and this might not be a team against whom it will be easy to escape.  Toronto can light up a team with goals in bunches across its roster.  They are something of a throwback, a team out of the 1980’s that is capable of winning games in wild, shoot-‘em-up, back and forth contests, and that is just not the way the Caps are built.  That makes this a game of wills and ability to dictate pace and style, something the Caps have struggled to do for quite some time.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 4

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 20

Week 20 might have been the worst week for the Washington Capitals in recent memory.  A winless week, almost no offense, losses to a poor possession team and a team that couldn’t seem to win games in regulation even if they were spotted multiple goals, which the Caps did and failed to make up the difference.  It was brutal.  Fortunately, it was only a two-game week.


Record (0-2-0)

Week 20 was the fourth week of the season in which the Caps failed to record a win and the first win which they played more than one game and failed to earn a standings point (they were 0-1-0 in Week 11).  Making it worse, the two losses came against Metropolitan Division opponents, and while the loss to Philadelphia to end the week had no impact on the teams’ relative stations this season, the loss to the New York Rangers to open the week did leave the Caps slipping further behind the Blueshirts for the third seed in the Metropolitan Division.

But while that loss to the Flyers did not have any impact on the teams’ relative positions in the standings, it was galling nonetheless.  In dropping a 2-1 decision to the Flyers, the Caps were only the second team that Philadelphia beat in regulation since December 14th.  The loss in New York to the Rangers broke a three-game winning streak at Madison Square Garden.

Offense: 1.00 / game (season: 3.17 / 13th)

Two games, two goals, one at even strength.  And while getting one goal in New York against one of the better defensive teams in the league (2.44 goals allowed per game, third-best in the league at week’s end) and a Vezina Trophy contender in goal was not an altogether surprising result, one goal – on a power play – against the 25th-ranked scoring defense in the league I Philadelphia was just inexcusable.

It was not as if the Caps lacked for shots on goal, they totaled 65 in two games for the week. What they lacked was follow-up and a persistence in getting into good scoring areas or in sniffing out rebounds.  There was a lot of “one-and-done” in terms of their shooting for the week.  For the record, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored the goals for the week, Ovechkin’s being a rather cosmetic tally late in what was at the time a 4-0 Ranger lead and Oshie’s being a power play goal of a sort that was missing during his injury absence, a one-timer from the bumper slot on a power play.

Four skaters recorded points (Ovechkin, Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom), Kuznetsov the only one posting two points for the week.

Defense: 3.00 / game (season: 2.76 / 11th)

It was not exactly a bad week for the Caps, who allowed only 43 shots on goal and 93 attempts for the week.  It was a case of committing unforced errors in coverage that led to problems, perhaps none as obvious as the Kuznetsov losing track of Claude Giroux trailing a play, taking a pass, and snapping the puck into the back of the net just 11 seconds into the Caps’ 2-1 loss to the Flyers to end the week.  Or there was the Rangers’ Alexis Lafreniere easing out from behind the Caps’ net, shoving Martin Fehervary off balance, and redirecting a shot past goalie Ilya Samsonov.  Or Chris Kreider, who Dmitry Orlov allowed to walk across the top of the crease unchecked and into open space to take a feed and stuff into the net to all but end the competitive portion of that game, giving the Rangers a 3-0 lead midway through the third period.  It was decent defense pockmarked by some hideous errors in coverages, an “all-or-nothing” sort of week in the defensive end of the rink.

Goaltending: 3.09 / .860 (season: 2.62 / .908 / 6 shutouts)

Ilya Samsonov got both starts and, frankly, deserved better support than he got in front of him.  There was the usual iffy goal allowed, that one being a Mika Zibanejad tally from the right-wing circle in the 4-1 loss to the Rangers that snuck past his left elbow that he might like back.  But he kept the Caps in the Rangers’ game as best he could with a sluggish to the point of sleepwalking team in front of him, and he was quite good against the Flyers after that Giroux goal 11 seconds into the game, the second goal he allowed being the product of a teammate – Conor Sheary – putting the puck on the stick of Cam Atkinson for a goal from the post to Samsonov’s left.  Samsonov has now started six straight games and has a disappointing 3-3-0 record in those games, but his underlying numbers – 2.71 goals against average and .911 save percentage – have been decent.  They do, however, need to be better to inspire any confidence that he can carry his fair share of the load as the postseason approaches.  He cannot be a passenger relying on the Caps to us high volume scoring to win games.  He has to show an ability to steal the occasional game.

Power Play: 1-for-7 / 14.3 percent (season: 16.1 percent / 28th).

It just is not a very good power play at the moment.  It is not even a mediocre power play at the moment and has not been for the last couple of months.  Part of the problem was that an important cog was missing for much of that time to injury.  But T.J. Oshie has returned to the lineup, and while one power play goal does not a turnaround make, his getting the Caps’ lone power play strike on a set play from his post in the middle of the Caps’ 1-3-1 set-up was a plus.  Whether it is something on which to build will have to await whether he can continue to produce and occupy defenses a bit more to allow Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson a bit more room to do their work on the man advantage.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-4 / 100.0 percent (season: 79.6 percent / 15th)

The week was not a total loss, style-wise, thanks to the penalty kill.  Allowing only four man advantage chances, killing them all, including killing both chances against the fourth-best power play in the league on their ice and snuffing out both Flyer power plays, including 49 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, made for a good week in this area.  It was the seventh time in 20 weeks that the Caps were perfect in penalty killing but only the second time in the last seven weeks.  It was also the third time this season the Caps held an opponent to four chances.

Faceoffs: 55-for-109 / 50.5 percent (46.9 percent / 30th)

It was a week that gave credence to the notion that faceoffs don’t matter much.  An uncommon 50-plus percent week in the circle did not give the Caps much push to make it a successful week in wins.  It was, however, an uneven week of the sort that might have had an impact on the Caps’ inability to score.  They won 24 of 51 offensive zone draws (47.8 percent), but the two top scoring line centers – Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov – went a combined 10-for-25 (40.0 percent) in the offensive zone.

The Caps were better in the defensive end, going 18-for-31 (58.1 percent), Nic Dowd and Backstrom finishing over 50 percent and going a combined 12-for-17 (70.6 percent).

It was also an uneven week in terms of game-to-game performance, the Caps winning 32 of 51 draws against New York (62.7 percent) but only winning 23 of 58 faceoffs against the Flyers (39.7 percent), a game in which no Capital finished over 50 percent.

Goals by Period

When a team scores two goals in two games, the goals by period do not impress, and that is the case in Week 20.  The problem for the Caps were those three first period goals, the Caps falling behind first in both games.  The combination of digging themselves early holes and an anemic offense made for a bad week, especially for a club that still finished the week tied for sixth-fewest first period goals allowed but allowed half the goals given up for the week in the first frame.


This year’s Caps are sinking more quickly relative to last year’s squad, and that is an ominous sign.  Injuries have taken their toll on this team, but it also has the look of a club that is running out of gas.  While the defense in this team is better compared to last year, the offense is now running at about a quarter goal per game under last year’s scoring pace, despite an edge of more than 100 shots on goal for this team over last through 54 games.  The power play is hopelessly behind last year’s team, but the penalty kill seems to be sagging relative to last year’s as well. 

In the end…

Week 20 was nothing short of a disaster, arguably the low point of the season to date.  Almost no offense, an inability to recover from early deficits, poor power play, and a general lack of spark that has ominous tones as the season heads into the home stretch.  Does this team have enough energy to recover from a poor middle third of the season?  Will a trade really make all that much difference?  These are the sorts of questions one does not ask of a Stanley Cup contender, but here we are with a team that is all but certain to make the playoffs but might be just as certain to make that trip a short one.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-2-2, minus-1, nine shots on goal)
  • Second Star: T.J. Oshie (1-0-1, minus-1, one power play goal, six shots on goal, 61.5 winning percentage on faceoffs)
  • Third Star: Nic Dowd (0-0-0, even, 65.2 winning percentage on faceoffs, six credited hits)