Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 53: Capitals at Rangers, February 24th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a week to get healthy, work on systems and tactics, and recharge, the Washington Capitals return to the ice to face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.  The Caps will try to extend their road winning streak to six games and extend their league best road record for February to 5-0-0.  The surprising Rangers will go into this game 8-1-1 in their last ten home games.

In those last ten home games, the Rangers have employed 25 skaters, only ten of them appearing in all then games.  Chris Kreider is one of those ten and leads the team in goal over that stretch of home games with nine (9-5-14, plus-8).  One wonders just what the terms of the bargain with the Devil Kreider had to have the season he is having.  In 50 games, he already has a career high in goals (33) that eclipse his prvious high of 28 goals in 75 games in 2016-2017 and 28 goals in 79 games in 2018-2019.  He is within six points of his career high of 53 in 2016-2017 (28-25-53).  His 17 power play goals in 50 games is more than 50 percent better than his previous high in this category (11 power play goals in 50 games last season).  And the Rangers are 18-5-3 in the 26 games in which he recorded a goal.  If there is an odd feature of his offensive production, it is that while he has 26 games with a goal, he has only 28 games with points, two of those games without a goal.  But in each of those games, he recorded three assists, two of the four three or more point games he has this season.  And it is not as if Kreider has a particular affinity for home cooking or a preference for the exotic cuisines on the road.  His home-road scoring lines are almost indistinguishable – 17-7-24, plus-7, in 23 home games; 16-7-23, plus-5, in 27 road games.  Kreider is 8-6-14, minus-3, in 33 career games against the Capitals.

Mika Zibanejad is the leading point producer in this 8-1-1 home stretch (6-9-15, plus-8).  He has scored points in bunches at home this season.  In 23 home games this season, Zibanejad has points in 14 of them, and among those 14 games he has seven multi-point games, including three three-point games.  In his last 11 games on home ice, he has six multi-point games.  And his scoring in home games matters.  Only once in 14 games in which he recorded at least one point did the Rangers lose in regulation (10-1-3).  His production is no fluke.  When he was traded by the Ottawa Senators with a second-round draft pick in 2018 to the Rangers for a 2018 seventh-round draft pick and Derick Brassard In July 2016, a light switch was flipped on.  Zibanejad spent five seasons with the Ottawa Senators, going 64-87-151, minus-11, in 281 games, a 19-25-44, minus-3, scoring line pr 82 games.  But since moving to the Big Apple, he is 155-178-334, minus-2, in 373 games, a 34-39-73, even, scoring line pr 82 games.  In his six seasons in New York, including this one, Zibanejad leads the Rangers in goals (155, six more than Kreider), assists (179, 34 more than Artemi Panarin), and points (334, 70 more than Kreider).  He is 14-11-25, minus-9, in 34 career games against Washington.

If Zibanejad has been the leader in raw numbers since his arrival in New York, Artemi Panarin has been the most efficient offensive performer for the Rangers since he arrived in Manhattan.  After spending his first two NHL seasons in Chicago with the Blackhawks (61-90-151, plus-26, in 162 games), and then skating for two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets (55-114-169, plus-37, in 160 games), he signed as a free agent with the Rangers in July 2019.  In those first four seasons in Chicago and Columbus, Panarin was a combined 116-204-320, plus-63 in 322 games, a 30-52-82, plus-16, per 82 games. If a light switch wasn’t flipped upon his arrival in New York, it was like a 3-way light bulb going from the dimmest to the brightest setting.  In three seasons with the Rangers to date, including this one, he is 63-145-208, plus-52, in 156 games, a 33-76-109, plus-27, scoring line per 82 games. Panarin is tied for 23rd in the league (with Calgary’s Tyler Toffoli) for total goals scored in his three seasons with the Rangers, fourth in assists (145), tied for fourth in points (208, with Toronto’s Auston Matthews), and tied for seventh in plus-minus rating (plus-52).  His 1.33 points per game rank fourth among 283 skaters appearing in at least 150 games over that period.  Panarin is 10-16-26, plus-8, in 23 career games against the Caps.

1.  New York’s 8-1-1 home record since January 1st is fifth-best by points percentage in the 2022 portion of the regular season.

2.  The Rangers’ plus-1.7 goal differential on home ice since January 1st is third-best in the league.

3.  The Blueshirts’ special team index of 119.4 on home ice since January 1st (35.5 percent power play/third in the league; 83.9 percent penalty kill/11th) is fifth-best in the league.

4.  Oddly enough, the Rangers have a minus-6 shots on goal per game differential on home ice since January 1st, third-worst in the league; their minus-123 shot attempts differential at 5-on-5 on home ice is second-worst in the league since January 1st, and their 43.2 percent shot attempts for at five on home ice is worst in the league in the new year.

5.  New York’s 105.6 shooting percentage (10.7 percent) plus save percentage (94.9 percent) on home ice at 5-on-5 since January 1st is best in the league.

1.  On their five-game road winning streak, the Caps scored four or more goals in all five games and outscored opponents, 23-9.

2.  Fourteen Caps have goals on their five-game road winning streak.  Joe Snively leads the team with four.  Six other Caps have two apiece (Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson, Garnet Hathaway, and Connor McMichael).

3.  Nineteen of 21 skaters over those five games have points. Carlson (2-4-6) and Snively (4-2-6) lead the team in points over that stretch.   Three other Caps have five points – Carl Hagelin (1-4-5), Orlov (2-3-5), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-5-5).  Only Matt Irwin (no points in one game) and Brett Leason (no points in two games) were held off the score sheet.

4.  No Capital has a minus-rating in their five-game road winning streak.  Only Nicklas Backstrom (five games), Daniel Sprong (four games), and Michal Kempny (one game) are “even.”

5.  Five different Caps have one power play goal in the five-game road winning streak – Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Tom Wilson, and Joe Snively.  Nic Dowd has a shorthanded goal to complete the special teams scoring on the streak.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Igor Shesterkin

For a while, it was the Finns.  Now, it appears to be the Russians.  The dominant nationality among dominant goaltenders, that is.  The Pekka Rinne-Miikka Kiprusoff-Tuukka Rask (and others) cohort of Finns that dominated in goal in the decade following the 2004-2005 lockout has given way to a collection of Russians who stand at or near the top of the current crop of goaltenders, goalies such as Andrei Vasilevskiy, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Semyon Varlamov rank among the best goalies over the last decade.  The best might be yet to come.  Igor Shesterkin has grabbed the number one netminding job for the Rangers by the throat and shows no hint of letting go any time soon.  A fourth-round pick in the 2014 Entry Draft – the 14th of 21 goalies taken in that draft (and, it should be noted, behind the Caps’ Vitek Vanecek, who was the fourth goalie taken in that draft) – he has been dominating in goal since his first game in January 2020, when he stopped 29 of 32 shots in a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche. 

It is his improvement from last season to this that is noteworthy, though.  Last season, Shesterkin was 16-14-3, 2.62, .916, with two shutouts in 35 games, a respectable record for a second-year goalie on a rebuilding team.  But compare that to the numbers this season that he brings to this contest – 24 (up eight), five regulation losses (down 11), three extra time losses (equal to last year’s total), 2.01 goals against average (down 0.61 goals), .939 save percentage (up 23 percentage points), and three shutouts (one more than last season), in 32 games.  Among 44 goalies logging at least 1,000 minutes this season, Shesterkin is tied for sixth in wins (24, with Nashville’s Juuse Saros), second in goals against average (2.01, trailing only St. Louis’ Ville Husso (1.97), first in save percentage (.939), tied for fifth in shutouts (three). Of 40 goalies appearing in at least 20 games, he ranks first in even strength save percentage (.939), second in save percentage when defending power plays (.928, trailing only San Jose’s James Reimer (.946), and he one of five goalies in the group who has yet to allow a shorthanded goal.  He might be the biggest reason the Rangers are third in the Metropolitan Division (second in points percentage) and has to be considered among the top favorites for the Vezina Trophy in this, just his third season.  He is 3-1-0, 2.53, .924 in four career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Nic Dowd

“The Best Fourth Line in Hockey” might be hockey’s equivalent to ‘The Best Flavor of Pringles Potato Chips,” good as far as it goes as long as you do not harbor expectations that the trio of forwards will be the reincarnation of the Wayne Gretzky-Jari Kurri-Esa Tikkanen line of the mid-1980’s Edmonton Oilers.  Nevertheless, the Nic Dowd-Carl Hagelin-Garnet Hathaway trio that comprises the Caps’ fourth line most of the time is a combined 20-28-48, plus-31 through 52 games.  Dowd is 7-8-15, plus-6, for that line, and in only 39 games played, a 15-17-32, plus-13, line per 82 games.  His 0.18 goals per game to date are the second-best of his career (0.20 last season), his 0.21 assists per game third-best in his career (0.23 with Los Angeles I 2016-2017 and 0.22 with the Caps in 2018-2019), and his 0.38 points per game a career high.  He is shooting 12.3 percent for this season, and while this is not a career best, it is an extension of a shooting efficiency that blossomed when he came to the Caps as a free agent in July 2018.  In three seasons with Los Angeles and Vancouver, Dowd shot a combined 6.8 percent, but in four years with the Caps, including this season, he is shooting a combined 14.7 percent (33 goals on 224 shots).

Dowd does have a distinct home-road split in his scoring, though, and not a good one in the context of this matchup.  In 22 home games, he is 6-4-10, plus-2, and is shooting 21.4 percent.  However, on the road he is 1-4-5, plus-4, and is shooting 3.4 percent in 17 games.  He has shown some improvement in this area of late.  In his first 13 road games, Dowd was 0-2-2, minus-2, but in his last four road games he is 1-2-3, plus-6 (a “plus” player in all four games), and he recorded his first multi-point game on the road this season (0-2-2) in his most recent road game, a 5-3 win against the Flyers in Philadelphia last Thursday.  But watch his ice time on the low side.  When skating less than 14 minutes in a game this season, the Caps are just 3-7-3 in 13 games, not surprising when the Caps want to get scoring forwards into action more frequently in games in which they trail.  Dowd is 6-2-8, plus-6, in 16 career games against the Rangers.

In the end…

It might seem odd to say this is a benchmark game for the veteran Capitals against the up-and-coming Rangers, but given how poorly the Caps have fared in the 2002 portion of their season overall, this is a useful game to gauge the Caps progress on the road (five straight wins, but three of them against teams out of the playoff mix – Dallas, Montreal, and Philadelphia) and their recent progress overall (3-1-0 in their last four games).  The Rangers have the sixth-best points percentage in the league on home ice (.761/16-4-3) and have that 8-1-1 run at Madison Square Garden they are currently on.  A win in regulation would also allow the Caps to inch within two points of the Rangers for third place in the Metro, an important consideration when one starts to think about seedings and matchups in the postseason, where these two teams could meet again.

Capitals 3 – Rangers 2