Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 37: Bruins at Capitals, January 10th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals find themselves in an unusual place as they return home on Monday night to face the Boston Bruins.  For the first time since opening November, they find themselves with a three-game losing streak (0-1-2), the result of which is the Caps having fallen to third place in Metropolitan Division and just four points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins in fourth place.

On the other side, the Bruins come to DC as winners in four of their last five games to start the new year (4-1-0).  Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have sparked the recent run of success with three goals apiece. Marchand is also tied with Taylor Hall for most points since the start of the new year (six).  Marchand – the player everyone associated with 31 other franchises loves to hate – is having what is a by now a typical Marchandian year.  Perhaps even better. His 14-19-33, plus-4 scoring line in 26 games puts him on a pace to finish 41-56-97, plus-12.  If he should reach the 41 goal projection, it would be his first 40-goal season of a 13-year career. 

And it is this sort of performance that is sometimes obscured by his antics on the ice.  But Marchand has been a first-team NHL All-Star twice in the five seasons preceding this one and a second-team All-Star in two other seasons.  He has received votes for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in each of the last five seasons (his highest finish was fifth, which he accomplished twice – in 2018-2019 and last season), and he has received Selke Trophy votes as best defensive forward in each of the last six seasons (his highest finish was ninth, achieved in each of the past two seasons).  Only once over the last 11 seasons did he finish with fewer than 20 goals, that being the abbreviated 2012-2013 season when he had 18 In 45 games.  He topped 30 goals in four of the last six seasons, falling two goals short in 2019-2020 and one goal short in 2020-2021, both seasons being cut short due to COVID issues.  Marchand is 15-18-33, plus-2, in 39 career games against the Capitals.

Pastrnak, on the other hand, had a less productive first half of the season in scoring goals than Bruin fans have become accustomed to.  He had a decent, if not dominating start, with eight goals in his first 19 games.  But then he went dormant, going without a goal in nine straight games and managing only a pair of assists for his trouble.  He does seem to be coming out of his slump with three goals in his last three contests, but he is not, at the moment, the goal scorer he was when he shared the Maurice Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin as the league’s top goal scorer in 2019-2020 (both players had 48 goals).  Ove the last season and a half, Pastrnak has 31 goals in 79 games.  The drop in production is a reflection of a drop in efficiency.  Over those 79 games he shot to a 9.9 shooting percentage, while over his first six seasons he shot a combined 14.7 percent and never had a single season under 10 percent, and only one below 13 percent.  Pastrnak is 8-13-21, minus-1, in 22 career games against Washington.

Defenseman Charlie McAvoy is consistent.  In each of the last three seasons, including this one, he posted five goals.  The difference being the number of games it took to get there – 67 games in 2019-2020, 51 games last season, and only 28 games so far this season.  He is on a pace to finish with 14 goals this season, which would double his career high of seven goals, accomplished twice, in each of his first two seasons (2017-2018 and 2018-2019).  McAvoy has had an interesting home-road split this season. While his scoring line bears little difference between home (3-8-11 in 14 games) and road (2-7-9 in 14 games), he is a plus-9 on the road but only a minus-2 at home. The difference is in his presence on-ice at even strength in goals scored and goals allowed.  At home he has been on ice for 11 goals for, but 13 goals against, while on the road those numbers are 14 and 6 (that plus-8 goal differential is best on the team).  He’s been on the ice for far fewer goals scored against the B’s in road games.  H has been dangerous in the offensive zone recently, though, with multi-point games in two of his last three contests.   McAvoy, who is listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury, is 1-9-10, plus-11, in 13 career games against Washington.

1.  Boston leads the league in shots on goal per game in road games (35.7).

2.  The Bruins’ road scoring defense is third in the league (2.33 goals allowed per game).

3.  Only Pittsburgh has allowed fewer goals in the first period of road games (six) than Boston (eight).

4.  The Bruins have allowed only 21 goals at 5-on-5 I road games, second-fewest in the league (Los Angeles: 17).

5.  Ten of Boston’s 15 road games have been settled by three or more goals.  They have a 6-4 record in such games.

1.  Washington is undefeated at home in games decided by three or more goals (4-0).

2.  At the other end, the Caps’ 2-2-5 record in one-goal games on home ice is tied for third-worst in the league by winning percentage (.222).

3.  The Caps have scored first in 12 of 18 home games, the 12 instances tied for second-most in the league with Dallas and Vegas.  Their nine wins in those circumstances are tied for third-most in the league, one behind Florida and Dallas.

4.  Washington is a net plus-16 in penalties drawn less penalties taken in home games, tied for fourth-best in the league.

5.  The Caps have five shorthanded goals on home ice so far this season, most in the league.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Boston: Derek Forbort

Charlie McAvoy is the go-to defenseman for offense for the Bruins, but Derek Forbort is not all that far behind in offensive production.  Among defensemen, he and Matt Grzelcyk are the only ones to dress for all 31 games this season, he ranks second in goals (four), fourth in assists (three). Fourth in points (seven), fourth in plus-minus (plus-2), first in even strength goals (four), tied for second in even strength points, is one of three defensemen with a game-winning goal, and has been on ice for 20 goals at even strength (tied for fourth).

This is Forbort’s first season in Boston after spending his first six seasons manning the blue line for the Los Angeles Kings (who took him as a 15th overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft, one spot ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko, taken by St. Louis), Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets.  The Bruins signed him as a free agent last July.  He does come into this game in a prolonged offensive slump, going 0-2-2, minus-1, in his last 17 games.  Forbort is 0-2-2, even, in six career games against Washington.

Washington: Nick Jensen

Nick Jensen is approaching some minor personal milestones.  He enters the new week having appeared in 175 games for the Caps, closing in on the 190 he played in his first posting with the Detroit Red Wings.  Goals are five with the Caps, one short of the six he had in Detroit.  Assists (33 with Washington versus 37 with the Wings) and points (38 versus 43) reflect similar small, and narrowing differences.  The difference is in the quality of his surroundings.  Jensen was minus-14 with the Red Wings, while he is plus-27 so far with the Caps.  That plus-27 is third best among defensemen since his arrival, trailing Dmitry Orlov (plus-48) and John Carlson (plus-28).

Jensen has been one of those odd players whose production on the road eclipses his performance at home.  He is 2-6-8, plus-14, in 17 road games, but he is just 1-2-3, plus-4, in 17 home games.  And if anything, one would not expect his overall production to improve a lot in January.  Over his career, January has been a bit dry – 1-8-9, minus-1, in 53 games played in January.  It has been a bit dry for Jensen lately this season, too.  He is 0-2-2, minus-3, in his last 11 games. Odd Jensen stat… he has ten career penalty minutes in 21 games against Boston, second most against any team in the league (New Jersey: 17).  He is 0-4-4, minus-1, in 21 career games against Boston.

In the end…

One key to success over a long season is avoiding long losing streaks or sluggish stretches.  The Caps are in danger of taking a fourth consecutive loss for the first time this season against the Bruins, who are 5-3-2 against the Caps in their last ten meetings.  It will be a challenge, and it will be interesting to see if the Caps can harness intensity for 60 minutes that has been lacking lately.

Capitals 3 – Bruins 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 13

It was bound to happen in an 82-game season.  The Caps had a bad week in Week 13. Yeah…13, we get it.  The constant churning of the roster due to injury and COVID issues seems to have caught up with the team. This is not to say other teams haven’t found themselves in similar straits, but several of those teams have hit the bumps in the road the Caps found in Week 13.

Record (0-1-2)

You can’t even really say the Caps “salvaged” two points out of it with a pair of extra time losses.  One, perhaps, that being the first game of the week, when the Caps scored a pair of third period goals to erase a 3-1 deficit against New Jersey, only to yield the second standings point in overtime.  They coughed up a two-goal lead in bizarre ways – an own goal and a last-minute goal – before dropping the extra time decision to Minnesota in the Gimmick.

And don’t think of this week’s record as an aberration or an outlier.  It is unusual, but the Caps are just 6-4-4 in their last 14 games after running off a 9-1-1 record over 11 games back in November.  The Caps need to get healthy, but they need to display more focus and discipline in executing their systems, too.  They are leaving too many points on the table to be as comfortable as we would like with this squad.

Offense: 2.00 / game (season: 3.33 / 8th)

Six goals, six different skaters getting them.  Evgeny Kuznetsov was the only player playing a consistent scoring line role to get one (John Carlson, Daniel Sprong, Conor Sheary, Nic Dowd, and Connor McMichael were the others), and that was a power play goal.  Sheary, Lars Eller, and Trevor van Riemsdyk were the only players to record two points. 

It was not that the Caps did not get off to good starts, but what seemed like a certain indifference once getting a lead, they would blow it.  They had a lead in each of the last two games of the week, but after scoring first against St. Louis, the offense went into hibernation as the Blue answered with five unanswered goals, and they scored the first two goals against Minnesota in the last game of the week and again went into hibernation before a bizarre own goal and a last minute goal by the Wild tied the game to force extra time where the Caps lost in the Gimmick.  The phrase “pedal to the metal” comes to mind as something the Caps failed to do on offense.

Defense: 3.67 / game (season: 2.64 / 9th)

The Caps have done a reasonably good job limiting shots on goal of late.  The first game of the week, against New Jersey, was the only instance in the last six games through Week 13 that a team posted more than 25 shots on goal.  They held St. Louis to 24 shots in the middle game of the week and limited Minnesota to 22 shots to close the week.  Over those last six games the Caps have averaged only 24.5 shots allowed per game, fewest of any team in that span.

What they are allowing is a high proportion of scoring chances and high danger scoring chances.  For Week 13, the Caps allowed 69 scoring chances against (12th fewest in the league) and 25 high danger chances (tied for ninth fewest; source:  The Caps’ 47.33 percent scoring chances for and against (18th in the league for the week) and 41.86 high danger chances percentage for and against (21st) suggest a bit too many chances for opponents despite the overall limitation of shots on goal.

Goaltending: 2.89 / .888 (season: 2.50 / .910 / 4 shutouts)

One has to keep reminding one’s self that Ilya Samsonov is still a young goalie in terms of experience, that as he gets more games under his belt, the more consistent he will be in performance.  Or so one hopes.  But for the moment, he just is not a consistently reliable goalie.  Week 13 was an example.  He stopped just 45 of 53 shots, a .849 save percentage, 42nd of 45 goalies to appear in at least one game for the week. Of his 20 appearances this season, ten of them resulted in save percentages under .900.  the odd part of that, of course, is that he is 6-1-2 in those ten sub-.900 games (one no decision), his win-loss success being more a product of what his teammates are doing at the other end of the ice to provide goal support and suppressing shots he faces (eight times facing fewer than 30 shots).

The feel-good story for the week was the performance of Zach Fucale.  He did allow the game-tying goal in the final minute against Minnesota before taking the loss in the freestyle competition, but that was the first goal he allowed as an NHL goaltender.  He stopped 28 of 29 shots for the week (.966).   He set a new franchise record for shutout minutes to start a career with the Caps in the first period against Minnesota, besting the 80:36 that Cristobal Huet set in 2008.  In the second period he broke the NHL record for shutout minutes to start an NHL career, topping the 102:48 Matt Hackett set with the Wild in 2011.  He allowed his first NHL goal after recording 138:07 of ice time without allowing a goal.  Of 83 goalies to lo at least 100 minutes, Fucale leads all goalies in goals against average (0.42) and save percentage (.980).

Power Play: 1-for-9 / 11.1 percent (season: 14.8 percent / 28th).

The power play just keeps sinking into the quicksand.  This was the second consecutive 1-for-9 week, and is the sixth consecutive week in which the Caps failed to record more than one power play goal.  They are 4-for-44 over that span (9.1 percent).  It isn’t as if they are not getting chances; the 3.0 chances per game this week tied for 11th in the league.  But they also logged 16:04 in those nine chances, an indicator of frustration – the Caps seeing those minutes bleed away, two at a time, with nothing to show for it.  More than any other aspect of their performance this season, the power play performance is inexcusable, even with the absence of Nicklas Backstrom for most of the season to date.

Penalty Killing: 4-for-4 / 100.0 percent (season: 83.3 percent / 8th)

On the other side of special teams, a very good week.  Limit chances?  Check. Only Buffalo, who played only one game, had fewer shorthanded situations faced (one) than the Caps (four).  Shutdown the opponent’s power play?  Check.  The 4-for-4 week extended the Caps’ string of games without allowing a power play goal to six, over which time they are 15-for-15.  It is their second longest streak of games without allowing a power play goal so far this season.

Faceoffs: 88-for-178 / 49.4 percent (45.7 percent / 32nd)

It was actually a decent week in the circle, by Caps standards.  They finished 14th in the league for the week in faceoff winning percentage.  But drilling down, it was not quite as good a week as all that.  The Caps were just 44.9 percent in the offensive zone, Mike Sgarbossa being the only Capital to finish over 50 percent for the week in the offensive zone (63.6 percent) on a 7-for-11 performance.  They were 49.2 percent in the defensive end, with Nic Dowd leading the way at 54.5 percent.  It was the neutral zone performance that made the week more respectable with a 56.3 percent overall winning percentage.

Goals by Period

Well, at least they were consistent, period to period, on offense.  But two goals in each regulation period in a three-game week?  That just does not cut it.  In a bit of a departure for the Caps from recent history, they were more prone to giving up goals early, allowing eight of the 11 total goals allowed in the first 40 minutes.  Still, the Caps maintain a plus-14 edge in first period goals scored, the 20 goals allowed in the first periods of games being the third-fewest in the league.  And, the 28 third period goals allowed overall are the fourth-fewest in the league.  Now, if they could just whittle down those middle period goals allowed (40, tied for seventh most in the league).


The Caps continue to track closely with last year’s club, although one has the lingering thought that they should be ahead of last year’s pace.  The defense continues to show better year-over-year numbers with 15 fewer goals allowed over the same number of games, 28 fewer shots on goal, 19 fewer shorthanded situations faced, and 19 fewer shot attempts at 5-on-5.  In a related vein, they have improved defense while playing tighter within the rules – 15 fewer penalties taken and 45 fewer penalty minutes recorded.

In the end…

One could legitimately wonder, if Caps split their extra time games to date, going 4-5 instead of going 2-9, that's two more standings points. And if the power play was 24.8 percent instead of 14.8 percent (which would still leave it seventh in the league), there are another 11 goals, maybe 3-5 standings points. That's 5-7 standings points in all. If so, the Caps could be up 3-5 points on rest of league.  The Caps, despite a fine overall record, have left points on the table that is confounding, given their skill set. It might not matter insofar as a playoff spot is concerned, but it does give one pause, that this team might lack a necessary killer instinct.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Zach Fucale (0-0-1, 0.72, .966, set new franchise and NHL records for shutout minutes streak to start career with the Caps and in NHL)
  • Second Star: Conor Sheary (1-1-2, minus-2)
  • Third Star: Nic Dowd (1-0-1, minus-1, 58.6 faceoff winning percentage, five credited hits, three blocked shots (most among forwards))