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)...no 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..
6-3-2 (20-6-7 through December 31st)...meh
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