Tuesday, March 08, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 59: Capitals at Oilers, March 9th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals take the ice for the middle game of their three-game road trip when they visit the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night.  The Caps will be skating the back-half of a back-to-back set of games, having faced the Calgary Flames on Tuesday.  Meanwhile, the Oilers will enter the contest on a three-game losing streak (0-2-1), including a 3-1 loss to Calgary in their last meeting in the latest installment of the “Battle of Alberta.”

The Oilers are, at the moment, on the outside looking in on the playoffs, two points behind Nashville for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.  Nashville also has two games in hand, putting the Oilers in a deeper hole.  They have done themselves no favors recently, following up a five-game winning streak with a 2-5-1 record over their last eight games. 

Over those eight games, the Oilers posted 20 goals, their 2.50 goals per game tied for 25th in the league over that period.  Oddly enough, neither Leon Draisaitl nor Connor McDavid lead the team in goals over that eight-game stretch.  Evander Kane and Derek Ryan have four apiece to lead the way.

Kane has been productive for Edmonton since he signed as a free agent on January 27th with eight goals in 18 games.  Scoring goals has never been much of a problem for Kane, who has 272 goals in 787 career regular season games and 20 or more in each of his last six seasons entering this season.  In fact, his on-ice skill has never been much in question.  It is the unrelated controversies in which he has found himself that has, in no small part, resulted in his playing for four teams in a 13-year career.  Not that he has been a shrinking violet on the ice, either.  Of 1,068 active NHL players, Kane ranks ninth in career penalty minutes (1.008), and of 448 active players to dress for at least 250 games, he ranks tenth in penalty minutes per game (1:16).  His 20 penalty minutes in 18 games with the Oilers to date (1.11 minutes per game) is in line with his career history.  And it matters.  Edmonton is 3-4-0 in games in which Kane has taken penalties, 6-3-2 in those games in which he did not.  On the other hand, Edmonton is 4-2-1 in the games in which he has goals, 5-5-1 in the games in which he does not.  They are 6-3-1 when he recorded at least one point, 3-4-1 when he did not.  He has to be on the ice and producing, not spending time in the penalty box, for the Oilers to make that jump back into the playoff mix.  Kane is 21-7-28, minus-3, in 35 career games against Washington.

That Derek Ryan would be tied for the team lead in goals in their recent eight-game slide is a bit surprising, but he has been a decent offensive contributor in limited ice time over his career (12.6 goals per 82 games while averaging 14:19 in ice time per game).  What is more, he has been an efficient producer with an 11.6 shooting percentage over his six seasons in the NHL coming into this season, not a bad number for a bottom-six forward.  This season, he has lifted that shooting percentage to 15.1, tying a career high for a full season.  And, until he finished last season with only two goals in 43 games with Calgary, he had four consecutive seasons of double digits in goals.  His goal scoring this year, as you might expect from a secondary scorer, accompanies Oiler wins, Edmonton going 5-1-0 in the six games in which he has goals, including a hat trick against Florida in a 4-3 win in Florida on February 26th.  Edmonton is 9-2-1 in the 12 games in which he has points.  If there is an ice-time cutoff for success, it is 12 minutes.  When Ryan skated more than 12 minutes, Edmonton is 18-5-2, and they are 9-17-2 in the 28 games in which he skated less than 12 minutes.  Again, not all that surprising given his role as a bottom six forward.  Ryan is 1-5-6, minus-3, in 12 career games against the Capitals.

Edmonton has made a habit of being a frequent presence at the top of the annual draft selection board, having 11 top-ten picks since 207, including four first overall picks.  But it is a second round pick who leads Oiler rookies this season.  Ryan McLeod, a second-round pick (40th overall) in the 2018 Entry Draft, is one of six rookie skaters to dress for the Oilers this season.  He leads that group in games played (46), goals (six), assists (seven), points (13), has the only power play point of his rookie cohort, leads in shots on goal (49), and leads in shooting percentage (12.2). He has a positive takeaway-to-giveaway ratio (1.09:1), which seems a bit odd for a rookie. Of 208 rookie skaters to dress across the league this season, he is a top-25 producer in goals (T-19th), assists (T-25th), and points (T-23rd).  But the Oiler suffer when McLeod gets more exposure.  They are just 8-14-1 in the 23 games in which he logged more than 13 minutes of ice time, and there is an odd aspect to his offensive engagement.  When he recorded at least one shot on goal, Edmonton is 11-17-3; when shut out on the shots on goal board, the Oilers are 10-4-1.  McLeod is 0-1-1, even, in his only career appearance against Washington.

1.  Edmonton has the worst penalty kill on home ice this season (69.1 percent).  They have allowed at least one power play goal in each of their last five home games, three times allowing two, and have killed just nine of 17 shorthanded situations (52.9 percent).

2.  The Oilers have scored first only eight times in 26 home games, tied with Seattle for fewest in the league.  On the plus side, they won all eight games, the only team in the league with a perfect record when scoring first on home ice.

3.  Edmonton does not do close games on home ice.  They have only six one-goal decisions in 26 home games and a 5-1-0 record in those games, their .833 winning percentage ranking fourth in the league.

4.  On the other hand, 15 of 26 home games have ended in decisions by three or more goal margins, the Oilers posting a 7-8 record in those games.

5.  Edmonton is one of three teams without an overtime loss on home ice this season.  Florida and Nashville are the others.

1.  Since January 1st, the Caps have the fourth-best scoring defense on the road (2.36 goals allowed per game.

2.  Only Vegas has allowed fewer 5-on-5 goals on the road since January 1st (14) than the Caps (16); their 1.45 5-on-5 goals allowed per game is third-fewest in the league in that span.

3.  The Caps have allowed seven first period goals in 11 road games since January 1st, tied for third-fewest in the league (with the New York Rangers); only Arizona (six) and Vegas (five) have allowed fewer.  Only the Rangers have allowed fewer third period goals (seven) than the Caps (eight, tied with Tampa Bay).

4.  The Caps have scored first nine times in 11 road games since January 1st, tied for fourth-most in the league (with New Jersey).  They are 6-2-1 in those games.

5.  Since January 1st, the Caps have dressed a total of 25 skaters.  Of that number, 21 have recorded at least one point.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Edmonton: Mikko Koskinen

In 2006, the Oilers had some serious issues in goal.  In the regular season.  As the calendar rolled over into March, none of the three goalies – Jussi Markkanen, Mike Morrison, and Ty Conklin – had save percentages over .890.  Something had to be done.  On March 8th, the Oilers traded a 2006 first-round draft pick and a 2007 third-round draft pick to the Minnesota Wild for Dwayne Roloson.  Roloson started 19 of the Oilers’ last 20 games, going 8-7-4, 2.43, .905, with one shutout, but in the playoffs he would go 12-5, 2.33, .927, with one shutout.  He would not finish the series, having suffered a knee sprain and hyperextended elbow in Game 1 of the final against the Carolina Hurricanes (Markkanen finished the series), but he was what the Oilers lacked for much of the season – a reliable goaltender.

The Oilers find themselves in a similar situation in 2022.  Mike Smith has been in and out of the lineup with injuries (he is currently listed as day-to-day with a “non-COVID” illness) and has not performed well even when in the lineup (5-8-1, 3.57, .891, in 15 appearances).  Mikko Koskinen has been up and down (19-9-3, 3.05, .904, with one shutout); in 32 appearances he allowed four or more goals ten times and two or fewer 11 times. He has been on a nice run of late, going 7-1-2 (one no-decision), 2.55, .920, with one shutout over his last 11 appearances and has not allowed as many as four goals in regulation, but that follows a ghastly stretch in which he was 0-6-1, 4.28, .855 over seven appearances.  And that followed a start to the season in which he was 12-2-0, 2.82, .914.  Consistency has not been Koskinen’s forte this season.  And on top of that, he has struggled on home ice, going 7-6-0, 3.54, .887.  Since December 5th, he is 2-5-0, 3.97, .872 on home ice.  Koskinen is 2-0-0, 2.97, .891, in two career appearances against the Caps.

Washington: Anthony Mantha

The 2021-2022 got off to a promising start for Anthony Mantha.  He was 2-4-6, even, into his tenth game of the season, but in that tenth game, against the Florida Panthers, he injured his shoulder after hitting forward Anthony Duclair in the second period of a 5-4 overtime loss to the Panthers.  The injury required surgery, and he was out of the lineup until March 3rd, missing a total of 45 games missed.  The Caps went 23-17-5 over that stretch. 

Mantha has not scored in either of the games he played since returning to the lineup, and he has recorded only three shots on goal in those two games, but the number he did post that might count as much or more than his scoring was this – 16:13.  That was his ice time n the Caps’ 4-0 win over Carolina last week, his second-highest ice time recorded this season (he skated 16:35 on Opening Night against the New York Rangers).

Mantha’s presence in the lineup corresponded with success for the Caps after he arrived from Detroit in a trade late last season, the Caps going 9-4-1 in the 14 games he played to wrap up the regular season.  He was 4-4-8 in those games, a 23-goal pace over 82 games, not a bad pace for joining a new team in the season’s stretch run.  It is entirely reasonable that he might struggle having missed those 45 games and trying to re-acclimate himself to the pace of an NHL game.  But with 24 games remaining, starting with this contest against the Oilers, he should be in good shape to make more meaningful contributions as the playoffs approach.  Mantha is 2-1-3, minus-1, in seven career games against the Oilers.

In the end…

Let’s face it.  As Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl go, so go the Oilers.  Edmonton is 2-12-0 in games this season when McDavid failed to register a point, 5-10-1 when Draisaitl is held without a point, 1-8-0 when both were held off the score sheet.  But keeping either of them off the score sheet, let alone both of them, is a tall order.  It makes for a stiff challenge for the Caps or the sort they, not to mention any other NHL team, rarely face – neutralizing two world class players on the same team.  But the Caps are not without experience in facing those challenges, facing the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as often as they have.  It could be a matter of not holding them without a point as much as keeping either or both of them from going wild.  Edmonton just doesn’t have enough on the rest of the roster to make up the difference, and that could be the key to the Caps adding to their win total on the road.

Capitals 4 – Oilers 3