Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 43: Golden Knights at Capitals, January 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! 

The Washington Capitals open the last week of January by hosting the Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena. Washington is still looking for its first win in regulation on home ice in January, their two wins in five home games to date coming in overtime. Those overtime wins were the first such wins for the Caps this season. 

Vegas has had their own struggles this month, going 2-3-2 for January, the Golden Knights and their opponents splitting 44 goals down the middle, 22 apiece. The Golden Knights have not dominated on offense (15th in scoring offense in January so far), but they have been balanced. Of 13 skaters with goals, six have at least two, and three – William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Mattias Janmark – have three apiece. 

Marchessault, one of the original Golden Knights, is the all-time franchise leader in goals scored (111). It was a while coming for the undrafted Marchessault, whose NHL career began when he signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets in July 2012. He played in only two games with Columbus before moving on to Tampa Bay via trade along with Dalton Smith for Matt Taormina and Dana Tyrell in March 2014. He played only two games for the Lightning in his first season in Tampa but appeared in 45 games the following season with the Lightning. It was not enough to impress the Lightning to sign him to another contract, and the free agent moved on to Florida in July 2016. He spent one season with the Panthers, where he provided the first glimpse of his goal scoring talent, recording 30 goals in 75 games. Nevertheless, he was left exposed in the expansion draft, and Vegas selected him. Now in his fifth season with the Golden Knights, Marchessault seems to have found a home, and he has delivered as a reliable goal scorer with three 20-goal seasons in his first four years in Vegas and, with 19 goals in 36 games this season, a virtual lock to make it four in five seasons with 20 or more goals. He comes into this game 3-3-6 in his last five games. Marchessault is 0-7-7, minus-2, in 12 career games against the Caps. 

Karlsson is the only other Golden Knight to have posted at least 100 goals for the franchise (102). He is another wanderer of sorts, originally drafted in the second round (53rd overall) by Anaheim in the 2011 Entry Draft. He played in 18 games for the Ducks before he was traded a second round draft pick in 2015 and Rene Bourque to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a third round draft pick in 2015 and James Wisniewski. Three seasons later, the Blue Jackets left him exposed in the expansion draft, and Vegas snapped him up. His first season with the Golden Knights was impressive – 43 goals in 82 games and a league leading plus-49 rating. His goal production has dropped ever since – 24 goals in 2018-2019 followed by seasons of 15 goals (in 63 games) and 14 goals (in 56 games) last season. He has six goals in 26 games so far this season, a 15-goal pace if he plays out the remainder of the season. Karlsson comes into this game 3-2-5, plus-1, in his last six games. He is 1-5-6, minus-3, in 16 career games against Washington. 

Vegas relies a great deal on its defense to contribute offensively. Every one of the nine defensemen to dress for the club this season have points, and five of them are in double digits. Seven of the nine have goals and have combined for a total of 28 goals. Shea Theodore leads the blueliners in both goals (eight) and points (29). Now in his seventh NHL season and fifth with Vegas, he has established himself as a reliable and productive defenseman in the offensive end of the ice. With one more point he will have his fourth straight season with 30 or more points, and his eight goals in 37 games have him on a pace to eclipse his career best in goals (13 in 71 games with Vegas in 2019-2020). He is also proving to be comfortable with more ice time, his 23:07 per game this season a career high and the third straight season he has averaged more than 22 minutes per game. Theodore is 5-13-18, plus-3, over his last 18 games. He is 0-1-1, plus-3, in eight career games against the Capitals. 

1.  Vegas has the second-best scoring offense on the road in the league this season (3.69 goals per game), trailing only Colorado (3.79). 

2. The Golden Knights’ road power play is humming along at 27.8 percent, third-best in the league. 

3. Vegas is tied for the best winning percentage when allowing the first goal in road games. Their 3-2-0 record (.600) is tied with Washington (3-0-2). 

4. With a 3-1-0 record in one-goal games on the road, Vegas is tied for the highest winning percentage in such contests (Tampa Bay is 6-0-2/.750). 

5. In 16 road games, Vegas has taken a lead into the third period eight times and won all of them. 

1.  Twenty-five of 30 skaters to dress for at least one home game for the Caps have points. 

2. With 29 assists in 42 games, Alex Ovechkin is on a pace (57 assists) to challenge his career high of 59 assists in 2009-2010. 

3. With a 13-28-41, plus-12 scoring line in 39 games, Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a pace to finish 26-57-83, plus-24, challenging his career year of 2017-2018 (27-56-83, plus-3). 

4. John Carlson is averaging 0.84 points per game. If he continues on this pace, it would be his fifth straight season averaging more than 0.80 points per game. No defenseman has as long a streak. 

5. Eleven defensemen have dressed for the Caps this season. All but one have at least one point (Alex Alexeyev is without one in one game played). Four of them have plus-minus ratings over plus-10 (Nick Jensen: plus-20; Dmitry Orlov: plus-17; Martin Fehervary: plus-15; John Carlson: plus-12). 

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder 

Vegas: Robin Lehner 

For better or worse, the Vegas net belongs to Robin Lehner. We say “for better or worse” because while Lehner has been a solid backstop for a club that relies a lot on a prolific offense, his numbers are rather ordinary – 29 games, 16-11-1, 2.95, .903. Of 33 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes played, Lehner is 26th in save percentage (three spots lower than Vitek Vanecek and one better, by rounding, than Ilya Samsonov), 24th in goals against average, 28th in even strength save percentage (.908; among 32 goalies with at least 20 appearances), 19th in shorthanded save percentage (.862 among the same group). Of 36 goalies with at least 500 minutes played on the road, he is 23rd in save percentage (.909) and 24th in goals against average (2.90). He has been in a bit of a slump lately, going 1-2-1, 2.95, .882. Lehner does, however, bring a three-game winning streak in road games into this contest. He is 2-3-1, 2.17, .927, with one shutout in six career appearances against Washington. 

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom 

It was a long time coming – 29 games, in fact – but Nicklas Backstrom finally made his way back into the Capitals’ lineup after a lengthy rehabilitation of a hip injury suffered last season. Backstrom entered the lineup without the benefit of a full training camp or early season games that would enable him to skate a full measure of minutes at an NHL pace. Nevertheless, he has been productive in his return. In nine games since coming back, he is 2-6-9, plus-3, very much the same nearly point-a-game player Caps fans have seen for more than a decade. And, he has points in seven of those games (including a game-winning overtime goal in a 3-2 come from behind win over Ottawa in what was his first multi-point game of the season) with even or better plus-minus ratings in seven of those contests.  

He has not yet been burdened with a full measure of his usual ice time, his 17:42 per game being lowest of his career to date. That might be expected to change in the second half of the season. There might be some who look at Backstrom upon his return and think him a step slow. Backstrom has never been a player to follow the pace set by others, but rather bends the game to his preferred pace. This might get harder to accomplish as the NHL and its players continuing to get faster. Nevertheless, Bsackstrom is a player with more than 1,000 games on his resume; he can adjust or at least accommodate his game to neutralize the speed advantages some teams will have over the Caps. Backstrom is 4-1-5, minus-2, in six career games against Vegas. 

In the end...

These are two good teams in a bit of a rut at the moment. Both are more offensive than defensive teams, although the Caps (at least earlier in the season) had an underrated defense that limited shots and shot attempts. This game might not be pretty and might end up being one in which the team that can be more consistent over a full 60 minutes comes out with the win. Advantage: home team. 

Capitals 5 – Golden Knights 3


Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 15

It was another treading water week for the Washington Capitals in Week 15. It extended a January of uneven performance and limited success, the Caps now looking up at three teams from fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. 

Record (2-2-0) 

At least it was not a losing week. And what has been most disappointing about it is how unsuccessful the Caps have been on home ice. They went 2-1-0 at home in Week 15, which looks good, but both wins came in overtime after falling behind 2-0 to Winnipeg and to Ottawa. In the other home contest, the Caps were bested by the Vancouver Canucks, 4-2. The two home wins to end the week did stop a three-game losing streak on home ice, but at the end of the week, the Caps still had not won a game on home ice in regulation this month.  

Offense: 3.00 / game (season: 3.26 / 10th) 

Three goals per game was decent effort, neither good nor bad (tied for 13th in the league in goals per game for the week). Seven Capitals recorded goals for the week, Alex Ovechkin getting third of them (four). Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson were the other multi-goal scorers for the week, each with two and each with a game-winning goal. 

Eleven Caps had points in Week 15, Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov setting the pace with five points apiece. Backstrom and Wilson each had four points to complete the list of Caps averaging a point or more a game for the week. Backstrom has been quite consistent since his return from rehabilitation after a hip injury last season. In nine games since his return he has points in seven, and he recorded his first multi-point game of the season in the 3-2 overtime win over Ottawa in which he scored the game-winning goal in the extra frame. 

Defense: 3.25 / game (season: 2.74 / 11th) 

Can’t say it was a very good week for the defense overall, the 3.25 goals allowed per game ranking 14th in the league for the week. The Caps allowed 30.0 shots on goal per game, an average higher than their second-ranked 28.2 shots on goal allowed for the season. It was an odd week in terms of goals allowed, the Caps allowing a total of 13, but only six of them at 5-on-5. Lars Eller was a victim of opponent scoring, being on ice for four even strength goals for the week. Alex Ovechkin was on ice for three goals against at evens, but he was still a plus-2, being on ice for five even strength goals for. Carl Hagelin had a rough time of it, on ice for three goals at even strength but not on ice for any goals for at evens. 

Goaltending: 3.01 / .899 (season: 2.60 / .907 / 5 shutouts) 

It was Vitek Vanecek given the opportunity to take the goaltending job for his own, getting the last three starts of the week. And as has been the case too often this season, he was inconsistent. He posted .909 save percentages in the first and third games in which he appeared, both ending in overtime wins, bracketing a four goals on 33 shots effort in the 4-3 loss to Boston, including a last minute power play goal for the Bruins that gave them the margin of victory. Although he allowed that last minute goal to Boston, it was first periods that were the concern. Vanecek stopped 19 of 23 shots in the first periods of the three games he played, a .826 save percentage. 

Ilya Samsonov got the call in the first game of the week and turned in another performance that might have had Caps fans scratching their heads and wondering if the light will ever go on for the young netminder, allowing him to put together a string of solid performances. He allowed three goals on 31 shots to Vancouver in a 4-2 loss, and he finished that game having stopped just 132 of 152 shots in his most recent six appearances, a .868 save percentage to go with a 2-2-2 record. 

Power Play: 2-for-10 / 20.0 percent (season: 14.8 percent / 29th). 

Two power play goals for the week have to be counted as a victory of sorts, the first week in which the Caps scored more than one power play goal since Week 7, when they went 2-for-8. It would have been a better week had the Caps enjoyed more than ten power play chances in four games, although there, too, they enjoyed a small victory. It was the first time they had at least ten power play chances in a week since Week 3, when they went 3-for-11. 

That Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson recorded the power play goals was encouraging. Ovechkin broke a five-game streak without a power play goal, although he finished the week with none in three games. Wilson posted his first power play goal since November 14th, breaking a streak of 19 games without one, but he, too, ended the week with none in his last three games. There is still work to do with this power play. 

Penalty Killing: 5-for-13 / 61.5 percent (season: 80.0 percent / 15th) 

Let’s just leave it at this...the penalty kill was awful. Only Buffalo allowed more power play goals (six) than the Caps (five, tied with Montreal) for the week. The five power play goals allowed were most in any week so far this season. And the Caps spread the grief around. Five Caps were on ice for three power play goals against – Lars Eller, Nick Jensen, Tom Wilson, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Martin Fehervary. Nine Caps were on ice for at least one power play goal against. 

Faceoffs: 113-for-223 / 50.7 percent (46.2 percent / 31st) 

A 50-plus percent week is rare for the Caps this season, but there it was in Week 15. It was the work in the offensive end that won the week in faceoffs for the Caps, combining for 42 wins in 77 draws (54.5 percent). The Caps did, however, finish under 50 percent in the defensive and neutral zones. Three of the four Caps taking at least ten draws for the week finished over 50 percent, also an unusual outcome this season. Lars Eller was one of them, and his 13 wins in 14 offensive draws taken had to be one of the best efforts of the week in any category. It was a reversal of roles for Eller, who is not a go-to player for offensive zone faceoffs. It was also a reversal of roles for Nicklas Backstrom, who was 7-for-9 in the defensive end (77.8 percent). 

Goals by Period 

It has become a broken record at this point. Second periods have been and remain a problem. This week it was going minus-3 in second period goal differential. Washington ended the week tied for the fourth-highest number of second period goals allowed, and but for the 45 second period goals scored (tied for seventh in the league), their minus-4 goal differential in the second period would look much worse. 


The Caps, despite their recent woes, are within striking distance of last year’s club in most categories and continue to do much better than last year’s team in top end possession metrics (shots on goal, shot attempts at 5-on-5). And while the special teams’ efficiencies are down on both sides of the ledger, in both categories the Caps are doing better than last season in power play chances and fewer shorthanded situations faced.  

In the end… 

The Caps are clearly in a rut, as their recent weeks of performance indicate. It might be injuries, trying to get through what amount to the dog days of the schedule (although that doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem for, say, Pittsburgh, which has jumped over the Caps in the standings). The home record is of some concern lately. They just are not making Capital One Arena a sufficiently difficult place to play, and with two of the three games next week at Capital One, it is time to make things harder on visitors. 

Three Stars 

  • First Star: Alex Ovechkin (4-1-5, plus-2, 19 shots on goal, 37 shot attempts, nine credited hits) 
  • Second Star: Nicklas Backstrom (2-2-4, plus-2, game-winning overtime goal, 54.0 faceoff winning percentage, eight shots on goal, 13 shot attempts) 
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetsov (1-4-5, plus-1, 11 shots on goal, 18 shot attempts)