The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night in Washington. It will be “National I Want You to Be Happy Day,” a day that “encourages us to do something that makes others happy.” There has been precious little happiness in Capitals Nation over the last two months. The Caps stumble into this contest having lost six in a row on home ice and are without a win in regulation in 2022 (two overtime wins). Meanwhile, Carolina has points in seven straight games (5-0-2) and has the second-best road record in the league (18-7-3).
Carolina’s road success comes on both sides of the puck. They are a top-five team in both scoring offense (3.39 goals per game/fifth) and scoring defense (2.57 goals allowed per game/fourth). That scoring offense is characterized by uncommon balance. Of the 23 skaters to dress for road games this season, 22 have at least one point (only Maxime Lajoie, who has appeared in only three road games, is without a point), and 20 have at least one goal.
Sebastian Aho leads the ‘Canes in both goal scoring and points on the road (16-11-27). Aho has demonstrated himself to be one of the most prolific offensive players in franchise history. Despite being tied with Patrick Dwyer for 31st place in team history in games played (416), he ranks 11th in goals scored (169) and is closing in on his coach, Rod Brind’Amour (174) for tenth place. He ranks 11th in assists (207), and he ranks ninth in points (376) and could jump all the way into a tie for seventh with Jeff Skinner (379) with a three-point game on Thursday. He ranks 12th in power play goals (44) and 14th in power play points (113). His 12 shorthanded goals rank second in team history, while his 17 shorthanded points rank fifth. Aho has 32 game-winning goals to rank sixth in team history. He has been quite consistent on the road this season, posting points in 17 of the 27 road games in which he played, eight of them multi-point games. He has been especially dangerous as a goal scorer on the road. Two-thirds of his 24 goals to date (16) have come on the road. Aho comes into this game with a seven-game points streak overall (3-5-8) and is 4-2-6 in his last six road games. He is 8-10-18, minus-1, in 17 career games against the Caps.
Carolina has not played rookies a great deal this season; only four rookies have dressed and those for a total of 56 games. Forward Seth Jarvis has accounted for 43 of those games played. Jarvis was the 13th overall pick of the 2020 Entry Draft, one of 23 skaters from that draft to have made his NHL debut. He is tied for seventh in games played in his draft class (43, with Columbus’ Yegor Chinakhov), sixth in goals (eight), seventh in assists (11), seventh in points (19), second in plus-minus rating (plus-7), and seventh in penalty minutes (12). He is one of five players in that draft class with at least one power play goal (he has one) and it tied for third with a pair of game-winning goals. Jarvis has been a consistent point producer. With points in 18 games, he is tied for tenth in his rookie class in games with at least one point. And, only four rookies have more games with points on the road than Jarvis (11, tied with Trevor Zegras and Jonathan Dahlen) – Michael Bunting (19), Tanner Jeannot (15), Moritz Seider (14), and Lucas Raymond (13). Jarvis has been a kind of good luck charm for Carolina, which is 7-0-1 in the eight games overall in which he has a goal and 14-2-2 in games in which he has at least one point. He has been in something of a slump recently, though, going 0-1-1, even, in his last 11 games. He was without a point and had a plus-1 rating in his only meeting against the Caps to date.
Frederik Andersen is one of those goalies who has toiled beneath the radar for much of his career. Since arriving in the NHL in 2013-2014 with Anaheim, he is fourth in the league in games played (431), fourth in wins (255, only four behind Marc-Andre Fleury as it turns out), tied for 19th in shutouts (22), 35th among 104 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes in goals against average (2.59), and 20th in save percentage (.919, wedged right between Fleury and Sergei Bobrovsky, both of whom were Vezina winners over this period). He might be in the midst of a career year. With 29 wins (a league high this season) in 38 games, he could surpass the 38 wins he had in 66 games with Toronto in 2017-2018. His 2.03 goals against average (fourth among goalies with at least 1,000 minutes this season) is his career best by a wide margin (2.29 with Anaheim in 2013-2014), and his .930 save percentage (third among goalies with more than 1,000 minutes) is also a career high.
One thing he has benefited from is avoiding high shot volumes. He has faced 30 or more shots 17 times this season, 19th in the league (by way of comparison, Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck has faced 30 or more shots a league-high 33 times). Andersen has an almost spooky split between home and road performance this season. He is 14-3-1, 2.03, .930, with two shutouts at home and 15-4-1, 2.3, .929, with one shutout on the road. And what he does not do, at least lately, is lose. Andersen is 18-2-2 in his last 22 decisions. He is 5-3-2, 2.95, .906, with two shutouts in his career against the Caps.
1. Carolina has 71 goals scored at 5-on-5 on the road, second in the league (Toronto: 80).
2. No team has won more games when scoring first on the road than the Hurricanes, who have 14 wins when getting the first goal. Theior .737 winning percentage in those games (14-2-3) ranks sixth.
3. What Carolina does well on the road is close with a finishing kick. Their 39 goals scored in the third periods of games is tops in the league on the road, and the 17 goals allowed in the final frame are fewest in the league. Only six times in 28 road games have they been outscored in third periods and only once by two goals, in a 7-4 loss in New Jersey on January 22nd. They own third periods.
4. Carolina has the best shot attempts-for percentage at 5-on-5 in road games (55.2 percent).
5. The Hurricanes have had some problems playing within the rules on the road. Their net minus-22 in penalties (penalties drawn less penalties taken) is third-worst in the league.
1. Since December 10th, the Caps are 3-10-1 on home ice. Only Buffalo has fewer wins (two), they are tied with the Sabres for fewest points earned (seven), and their .250 winning percentage is worst in the league.
2. Over that same period, the Caps are averaging 2.57 goals per game on offense at home (25th in the league) and are allowing 3.86 goals per game (26th).
3. Washington’s power play on home ice since December 10th – 11.1 percent – ranks 28th in the league; their 4.4 percent net power play (accounting for shorthanded goals against) ranks 30th.
4. Only five times in 14 home games since December 10th have the Caps scored first. They won just one of those games, second-fewest in the league (Seattle is 0-3-1 at home when scoring first over that period).
5. Washington has had a hard time in second periods at home over that 14-game stretch. Their eight goals in the second periods of those games rank last in the league, and they are a minus-13 in the second periods of those games, also worst in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Carolina: Tony DeAngelo
Drafted by Tampa Bay (19th overall in 2014), traded to Arizona without playing a game for the Lightning, traded to the New York Rangers, signed as a free agent by Carolina (after he was bought out by the Rangers and released). A lot of travel for a 26-year old in his sixth NHL season. And his young career has not been without controversy. A player who his head coach with the Rangers described as having “maturity issues,” problems seemed to accelerate with the Rangers on Opening Night of the 2020-2021 season when, in what would be a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders, he took a holding and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a minute into the third period of that contest. He was benched for the next game, a rematch against the Isles. Instead of taking the discipline to heart, DeAngelo allegedly got into a scrape with teammate goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. He was placed on waivers shortly thereafter, was placed on the team’s taxi squad when he cleared waivers. He would play only six games for the Rangers that season (0-1-1, minus-6) after going 24-81-105 in his previous four NHL seasons.
The Rangers eventually bought him out and released him as a free agent, whereupon he was signed by Carolina in July 2021. He has regained his stride in terms of performance with the Hurricanes, going 9-31-40, plus-19, in 43 games to date. His point total ranks 11th among all defensemen through Tuesday’s games. Not that he is playing entirely within the rules; he is one of 15 defensemen among 204 appearing in at least 25 games to average more than 1.00 penalty minutes per game (1.01). He does lead the Carolina defense in goals, assists, points, plus-minus rating, power play points (16), on-ice goal differential at even strength (plus-22), and is tied for the lead in game-winning goals (two), despite ranking just fourth in average ice time (19:30 per game). He comes into this game 2-5-7, plus-6, in his last eight games overall. DeAngelo (who is listed as “day-to-day” with a “mid-body” injury – now there is a new notice) is 1-5-6, minus-8, in seven career games against the Caps.
Washington: Nick Jensen
Against a team like Carolina, a team that can overwhelm opponents in their own zone, it will be important for the Caps, especially their defensemen, to move the puck smartly and confidently when pressured by the Carolina forecheck. Turnovers will kill the Caps if they come up short in this area, and that shines a bright light on someone like Nick Jensen, whose primary stock in trade is being able to move the puck out of danger. Unfortunately, Jensen (like many of his teammates) has had a rough time in the goals for and against scored while on ice category. In ten games since the Caps’ home record slump since December 10th, Jensen has had a “minus” goal differential on ice at even strength five times (all in losses, 0-4-1) and been a “plus” player only twice (a 1-1-0 record for the Caps).
Jensen has also seen his offense dry up on home ice of late. He is 14 games and counting without a point at Capital One Arena, his last point coming on November 26th in a 6-3 win over Montreal, and his last goal at home came on October 19th in a 6-3 win over Colorado. The difference in Jensen’s performance, home and away, is stark. On the road, he is 3-6-9, plus-20, in 25 games. On the other hand, he is 1-2-3, plus-3, in 24 games at home. One thing to look for is his ice time. One would expect if the Caps have a lead, he will get more ice time to try to protect it. The Caps are 13-3-3 when he logged at least 20 minutes, 11-14-6 when skated less than 20 minutes. Jensen is 0-3-3, plus-4, in 14 career games against Carolina.
In the end…
This will not be easy.
The Caps have been sluggish and stale on home ice for almost three
months, while Carolina is at or near the top of their game with visions of a
deep playoff run in their heads. Maybe
it is a case of the Caps having the Hurricanes right where they want them. These days, you hang on to any shred of hope. Let's hope the Caps can make all of us happy.
Capitals 4 – Hurricanes 3