The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals open the “second half” of their regular season schedule when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. The Caps’ run-up to the All-Star Game break was a struggle, the team going 5-7-2 since January 1st and dropping to fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. Their home record in that span – 2-5-1 (and both wins in extra time) – has been grisly.
Columbus’ struggles have made the Caps’ troubles pale in comparison, though. At one point this season, the Blue Jackets were 12-6-0, but since that promising start, they are 8-16-1, tied for the fourth-worst record in the league, by points percentage (.340), over that stretch. While their offense has struggled over those 25 games (2.84 goals per game), it is the defense that has been awful (4.20 goals allowed per game, worst scoring defense in the league over that span).
As one might imagine with that sort of scoring defense, goaltending has not stepped up. Over the last 25 games, the Blue Jackets have employed three goalies, and more exposure has left them, well, exposed. At the low end of the workload spectrum is Daniil Tarasov, who appeared in four games (three starts), and for a comparatively superior effort (2.40 goals against average, .937 save percentage), he was rewarded with an 0-2-0 record. Tarasov is on IR with a lower-body injury. Then there is Joonas Karpisalo, who appeared in 12 games (eight starts) and went 3-5-0, 3.94, .882. He has been better of late, though, going 2-0-0 (one no-decision), 3.00, .919 in his last three appearances. Korpisalo has, either as a result of his own performance, that of the team in front of him, or a combination of the two, been a disappointment since his rookie season. In 2015-2016, the former third-round pick of the Blue Jackets (62nd overall in the 2012 Entry Draft) went 16-11-4, 2.60, .920 in 31 games. Since then, however, he is 59-53-17, 3.08, .899, with three shutouts in 147 appearances. He has been better in road games this season (4-3-0, 3.58, .900 in 10 games) than he has at home (2-5-0, 4.11, .868 n eight games), but that is not to say he has been good, whatever the venue. Korpisalo is 3-1-1, 1.74, .945, with one shutout in six career appearances against Washington.
If not Korpisalo, perhaps head coach Brad Larsen will go with Elvis Merzlikins, but he has the worst record of the trio of goalies over the last 25 games – 5-9-1, 4.28, .884, with one shutout. Now in just his third season with Columbus, his performance has diminished with time, nevertheless. From a rookie season in which he went 13-9-8, 2.35, .923, with five shutouts in 33 games, he went 9-12-5, 2.77, .916, with two shutouts n 28 games last season. This season, he is 14-12-1, 3.39, .905, with two shutouts. He has been really, really good or really, really bad since the start of the new year. In his two wins he stopped 64 of 65 shots (.985 save percentage) and pitched a shutout in Carolina against the Hurricanes on January 13th. On the other hand, in his five losses (all in regulation) since January 1st, he stopped just 127 of 150 shots (.847 save percentage). But not all problems are that of the goalie. Merzlikins was lit up for six goals on 62 shots faced (no, that is not a typo) in a 6-0 loss to Calgary on January 26th. The 62 shot he faced is most faced by any goalie in the league this season, as are the 56 saves he did make in that game. Merzlikins has never faced the Caps.
1. Over the last 25 games for Columbus, Jakub Voracek is the only forward in the league with no goals and ten or more assists (0-11-11).
2. Over those same 25 games, only four defensemen in the league have a worse plus-minus rating than Zach Werenski (minus-14). He is hardly alone in his plus-minus miser among Columbus skaters. Eight of 26 skaters to dress over their last 25 games have plus-minus ratings of minus-10 or worse, including Oliver Bjorkstrand, whose minus 20 is tied for second-worst in the league over that period.
3. Gustav Nyquist has three shorthanded goals over Columbus’ last 25 games, second most over that span (Aleksander Barkov has four).
4. Patrik Laine does not have a power play goal in 24 games this season and 48:24 in power play ice time (fifth on the team in that span). He has never had fewer than four power play goals in any of his five NHL seasons preceding this one.
5. Over the last 25 games, the Columbus defense has contributed eight goals. Adam Boqvist has five of them.
1. The Caps’ 25-13-9 record is tied with the 2018-2019 squad for the 11th-best record through 47 games, by points percentage (.628), in their 47 season history. Their 25 wins are tied for 13th best at this point in 47 seasons.
2. Only one team in franchise history had fewer power play goals at the 47-game mark than this year’s team (21; the 1976-1977 team had 18).
3. This year’s Caps teams has the fewest penalty minutes (328) of any team in its 47-year history.
4. The Caps’ nine extra time losses ties the 2014-2015 team for most extra time losses at the 4-game mark in team history.
5. Caps opponent through 47 games have been charged with 378 penalty minutes, second fewest at this point in team history (last season: 367).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Columbus: Boone Jenner
If there has been a bright spot for Columbus over their dismal 25-game stretch going into the All-Star break, it might be the production of Boone Jenner. He leads the team in goals over that span (nine), is tied for third in assists (eight), leads in points (17), is one of two Blue Jackets over that span with two power play goals, has one of the seven game-winning goals recorded by the Blue Jackets over that stretch (seven players have one apiece), is second on the team in shots on goal (66), leads the team in faceoff winning percentage (53.3 percent; minimum: 50 draws taken), leads all forwards in blocked shots (24), and leads the team in takeaways (18). He is climbing the all-time franchise rankings, too – fifth in games played (573), fourth in goals (139), tenth in assists (131), fifth in points (270), seventh in power play goals (27), tied for fifth in shorthanded goals (five), third in game-winning goals (22), and he is 335 minutes short of becoming just the eighth player in Columbus history to log 10,000 minutes in ice time. In 28 career games against the Caps, Jenner is 1-7-8, minus-10.
Washington: John Carlson
It might be a measure of where John Carlson stands in the hierarchy of offensive defensemen in the NHL when nine goals (tied for fifth in the league among defensemen), 25 assists (tied for 12th), 34 points (tied for eighth), plus-10 rating (tied for 35th), four power play goals (tied for third), nine power play points (tied for 20th), and 23:44 in total ice time per game (25th) would be regarded as “disappointing.” Truth be told, his overall game this year at least gives the appearance of being a runner-up to Dmitry Orlov. Still, his performance matters. The Caps are 8-0-1 in the nine games in which he had goals, 18-2-4 in the 24 games in which he had points, and 8-1-0 in games in which he had power play points. On the other hand, heavy ice time loads have not been indicators of success, although this could be a case of getting more ice time in games in which the Caps trail; they are 8-6-5 in the 19 game in which Carlson logged at least 24 minutes in ice time (7-0-1 in games in which he skated less than 22 minutes). His splits this season, home and road, are a bit odd. He has 17 points in both home games and road games, but he is shooting just 3-for-51 (5.9 percent) at Capital One Arena and 6-for-52 (11.5 percent) in road games. There also the lack of consistency. Carlson had a big November (3-14-17, plus-2, in 15 games) but is just 6-11-17, plus-8, in 28 games outside of November. He is just 1-1-2, minus-6, in his last nine games. Carlson is 6-14-20, minus-3, in 30 career games against Columbus.
In the end…
On paper, the Caps should win this game with room to spare. But this team simply has not been that hard to play on home ice so far this season. Not that Columbus has been very effective on the road, ranking 25th in points percentage in road games (8-12-0/.400). These are teams with ghastly power plays (their combined 30.1 percent power play index is worse than Toronto’s league-leading 30.5 percent) and mediocre penalty kills, so one would not expect this game to hinge on special teams. But while the Caps have a plus-27 goal differential at 5-on-5, Columbus is minus-27 at fives (their 118 goals allowed at 5-on-5 is tied for most in the league). There is the difference. But don’t expect it to be easy.
Capitals 4 – Blue Jackets 3