The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals open the new week by wrapping up their four game road trip against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Caps arrive in Carolina fresh off a 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, while the Hurricanes return home after beating the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-3, in overtime in Philadelphia.
The Hurricanes, currently tied with Philadelphia for the Metropolitan Division lead with 11 points apiece, will welcome the chance to play in front of the home crowd. Through eight games they have served up home cooking only twice, splitting the two decisions, a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Opening Night and a 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the New York Islanders last Friday.
It might say something about the nature of turnover in the NHL that Carolina’s active scoring leader against the Caps is forward Sebastian Aho, who has only 20 career games against the Caps. Now in his seventh NHL season, Aho is moving smartly up the all-time Hurricane rankings in a number of categories. With 453 career games with the ‘Canes, he will soon pass Joel Quenneville (457 games) for 22nd place in team history, and if he maintains his health, he could find himself in the top-15 in all-time games played for the franchise. He is already a top-ten player in goals (186/ninth), assists (225/eighth), points (411/sixth), and plus-minus (plus-71/fourth). He would seem a lock to climb into the top-ten in power play goals 46/11th) and power play points (124/tied for 13th) by season’s end. Aho opened his season productively, posting four goals and ten points in his first eight games. But it has not been all unicorns and accordions for Aho. He has been on ice for more even strength goals against than any other Carolina forward (seven). Here is your odd Aho fact. He is looking for his first point on home ice, going 0-0-0, minu-s2, in two home games to date. Aho is 9-10-19, plus-1, in 20 career games against Washington.
When Brent Burns was traded by the San Jose Sharks with Lane Pederson to the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round draft pick in 2023, Steven Lorentz and Eetu Makiniemi, the Hurricanes took on the league’s leading minute-eater from last season. His 2,144 minutes not only led the league but were a career high in minutes played, the sixth time in 18 seasons he topped 2,000 minutes played for a season. Since he came into the league in 2003-2004, only four players have logged more minutes than the 28,103 he has on his record. But chewing up minutes is not is only noteworthy accomplishment. He also happens to have more goals (227) and more points (777) than any defensemen in the league since he entered it.
In his first year in Carolina, Burns is off to a good start with two goals and six points in eight games. On the other hand, he has been on ice for more even strength goals against than any other skater (eight). Your odd Burns fact. He is one of two defensemen in league history to post 225 or more goals, 750 or more points, and have a plus-minus rating worse than minus-35 (Phil Housley is the other). Burns has been a very durable player, especially given the position he plays and the minutes he logs. He has played in every game over the past eight-plus seasons. He is, however, the third oldest defenseman in the league, so the Father Time watch might apply to him and to whether he can continue his own ironman run. Burns is 6-13-19, even, in 22 career games against the Capitals.
Last season was one of, if not the best season in goalie Frederik Andersen’s career. He won 35 of his 52 appearances (35-14-3 overall), while posting a career best 2.14 goals against average, a .922 save percentage (second-best in his career), and four shutouts, one off his career best. It was enough for him to finish fourth in Vezina Trophy voting for the league’s top goaltender and for him to make the major contribution to winning the Jennings Trophy as the goalies (with Antti Raanta) for the team with the fewest goals scored against it during the regular season. It was quite a comeback from what was a disappointing last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in which he was 13-8-3, 2.96, .898, and without a shutout on his record for the first time since his rookie season with Anaheim in 2013-2014.
Andersen is off to a bit of a slow start this season, going 3-2-0, 2.81, .896 in five appearances so far. His .923 save percentage at even strength is not at all bad (13th of 33 goalies appearing in five of more games to date), but Andersen is last in that group in save percentage when his team is shorthanded (.667/eight saves on 12 shots), and he is tied for 27th in save percentage when the Hurricanes were on power plays (.800/four saves on five shots). Andersen is 6-4-2, 2.87, .908, with two shutouts in 12 career games against Washington.
1. Carolina is averaging 36.4 shots on goal per game while allowing 27.0 shots. Their plus-9.4 shot differential per game ranks fourth in the league.
2. The Hurricanes rank sixth in the league in faceoff winning percentage (53.7).
3. Carolina has only six first period goals. Only six teams have fewer. On the other hand, they allowed only five first period goals. Only five teams have allowed fewer.
4. Only four teams have allowed fewer goals at 5-on-5 than Carolina (13) – Vegas (11), Calgary, Colorado, and Dallas (12 apiece).
5. The Hurricanes lead the league in shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 (63.6).
1. The Caps rank second in the league in shooting percentage plus save percentage at 5-on-5 (103.0). Only Vegas (103.8) is better.
2. Only three teams have lost more even strength faceoffs than the Caps (248). Only four teams have fewer faceoff wins on power plays than Washington (23).
3. Washington’s goal differentials by period are very consistent – even in the first period (six scored, six allowed), plus-1 in each of the second and third periods (11 goals scored in each, 10 goals allowed in each).
4. The Caps have scored first in games only three times in nine game and are 2-1-0 in those games.
5. Only four teams have been shorthanded more times per game than the Caps (3.00).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Martin Necas
If one was to be asked, who leads the Carolina Hurricanes in points so far this season, the person answering the question might go through quite a few names before settling on Martin Necas. But there sits Necas atop the Carolina point rankings with 11 points in eight games (5-6-11). He is already almost a third of the way to his career high in goals (16 in 2019-2020) and seems a good bet at this point to at least challenge his career high in points (41 in 2020-2021). He has shown himself to be a reliable secondary scorer in his three full seasons in the league, scoring at least 14 goals in each and topping 35 points in each (twice with 40 or more points). What might not be sustainable, though, is his shooting efficiency. Having five goals on 22 shots (22.7 percent) is not a shooting efficiency one would normally bank on over the course of a full season. He has not displayed any clear indication that he is slowing down just yet. Necas posted goals in his first two games this season, and after he had one in a four-game stretch on the road, he has goals in each of his last two games heading into this contest. Necas is 3-3-6, even, in eight career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Aliaksei Protas
It was not supposed to be this way for second-year forward Aliaksei Protas. In last year’s rookie season, he posted three goals and nine points with a plus-4 rating in 33 games, but even with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson out to start the year, we felt it would be a bit more difficult to get consistent playing time this season. Protas put that concern to rest with a solid training camp, making the Opening Night roster, and he has appeared in all nine games for the Caps to date, going 2-1-3, even, in 11:21 of ice time per game. His shooting percentage (13.3 percent) is a bit higher than he posted over the full season a year ago (8.8 percent) and might regress toward a more consistent level of productivity. In what has been limited action to date (42 career games), he continues to outperform his draft slot (third round/91st overall in the 2017 Entry Draft). No skater drafted after him has played in as many NHL games to date, and he has appeared in more games in his career so far than 15 skater taken in the first round of that draft. So far this season he has shown that he belongs in the lineup, and with the injuries to Connor Brown and, for the moment, T.J. Oshie, he is not going to be dislodged from what might be a top-six role in the near future. Protas is 1-0-1, even, in his only career appearance against Carolina.
In the end…
This game will present a chance to climb into a tie with the New Jersey Devils for the top spot in the Metro with a win. They will have to do it with a depleted roster, the status of John Carlson and T.J. Oshie, both of whom suffering lower-body injuries against Nashville on Saturday, not certain for this game. It presents a challenge to play a focused, disciplined game that one expects a team to play on the road to be successful, as the Caps were last season. We will go with that.
Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 2