Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 60: Capitals at Canucks, March 11th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals reach Game 60 on their regular season schedule when they complete their three-game road trip in Vancouver and meet an old friend behind the Canucks’ bench.  The Caps will be trying to make it points in all three games of the road trip following a win in Calgary and an overtime loss to Edmonton.  The Canucks will be playing their second game of a seven-game home stand, oddly enough their second seven-game home stand of the season.  They were 2-4-1 on their earlier seven-gamer, back in late October/early November under then-coach Travis Green.  Regarding this matchup, the Caps will be looking to avenge a 4-2 loss in Washington on January 16th against former Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau.

Vancouver has become a more difficult team to play in their barn since Boudreau took over.  They were 3-7-1 at home under Travis Green to start the season, the 30th-ranked team in points earned seven) and points percentage (.318).  Since the coaching change, Vancouver is 10-3-2 on home ice, tied for tenth place with the Florida Panthers in points earned (22) and sixth in points percentage (.733).

The Canucks have improved in no small part because of an improved offense on home ice. Their scoring offense of 3.33 goals per game ranks tenth since the coaching change, an improvement of more than a goal per game from their woeful start (2.09 goals per game/31st in the league).

Elias Pettersson has been rejuvenated under Boudreau.  In 11 home games under Green, he was 2-5-7, plus-3.  Under Boudreau he is 9-9-18, plus-7, in 15 home games, the leader in goals scored and second in points, his points per game almost doubling from 0.64 to 1.20 points per game.  What is more, he has points in 11 of those 15 home games under Boudreau (a 7-3-1 win-loss for the Canucks) and five of them multi-point games.  

It is quite a comeback for a player, even as young as he is, who missed 30 games last season to an upper body injury and who started sluggishly in his return this season.  Petterson’s first two seasons – 55-77-132, plus-19 – left him poised to join the elite offensive players in the league before reaching his mid-20’s (he turned 23 years old last November).  Even with the injury setback and a sluggish start this season, Pettersson leads his 2017 draft class (he was the fifth overall pick) by a clear margin in goals scored (83 to 73 for New Jersey’s Nico Hischier) and points (194 to 184 for Hischier, in 57 fewer games (223 to 280)).  He comes into this contest on a four-game multi-point streak at home (4-6-10 overall in those four games).  Pettersson is 2-0-2, plus-1 in his only appearance against the Capitals.

J.T. Miller has been the object of much trade speculation in recent weeks.  But perhaps he has played himself out of trade consideration.  Whether he stays or goes, Miller has had a fine year, regardless of who was behind the bench.  He was the leading scorer on home ice (eight points, tied with Quinn Hughes) under Green, and he is the leading scorer (22 points) on home ice under Boudreau.  Overall, barring injury, he is bound to have a career year.  Miller is 23-44-67, plus-7, in 56 games, within sight of the 27 goals he had in 69 games with Vancouver in 2019-2020, the 45 assists he had in that same year, and the 73 points he posted in that campaign.  His five game-winning goals are one short of the six he had in 82 games with the New York Rangers in 2016-2017.   His 23 power play points are already a career high and by a wide margin (16 power play points in 69 games with the Canucks in 2019-2020).  This has been his most efficient season shooting the puck, carrying a 17.2 shooting percentage into Friday’s game. 

One can understand how Miller would be high on a team’s trade wish list, but at some point that success makes him either unaffordable in terms of either salary cap, assets than would leave in a deal, or both.  Miller has another year after this at a $5.25 million cap hit on his current contract.  Has his performance and compensation made him untradeable?  Does Vancouver even want to part with him at this point?  Keep in mind, he came to Vancouver from Tampa Bay in June 2019 for a 2019 third-round draft pick, a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick, and Marek Mazanec.  The price to pry him loose from Vancouver might be higher.  To use one of the favorite phrases on message boards, “only time will tell.”  Miller is 4-8-12, minus-6, in 26 career games against Washington.

Whatever Quinn Hughes’ parents served at dinner should be on training tables across the NHL.  Hughes is one of three brothers drafted in the space of four years, all top-ten picks, including a first overall pick.  Quinn was the first of the three drafted and lowest of the three selections, going seventh overall in the 2018 Entry Draft, the second defenseman drafted after top overall pick Rasmus Dahlin (his brother Jack was taken first overall by New Jersey in 2019, and his brother Luke was taken fourth-overall by New Jersey in 2021).  Quinn is among the leaders of his 2018 draft class, ranking fifth in games played (183), third in goals scored by a defenseman (15), first among all skaters in assists (127), fourth overall in points (142, just two behind Dahlin among defensemen), first among all skaters in power play points (68), fifth in blocked shots (128), and third in credited takeaways (100).  He does have that blemish of being fourth in his draft class in giveaways (153), but that is a lot fewer than Dahlin (195) for most among defensemen. 

Hughes appears poised to set career highs in a number of statistical categories this season, surpassing marks he posted in his Calder Trophy-winning 2019-2020 season – assists (41 in 54 games versus 45 in 68 games in 2019-2020), points (45 currently, 53 then), plus-minus rating (already a career best plus-9), power play assists (22 in both seasons), power play points (22 currently, 25 then), and shots on goal (112 currently, 126 then).  Odd Quinn Hughes fact…going into Friday’s game, Hughes has 22 even strength points and 22 power play points this season.  Hughes is 0-4-4, minus-5, in three career meetings against Washington.

1.  Before the coaching change, Vancouver had the 28th-ranked team in goal differential on home ice (minus-0.55).  Since the change, they rank seventh (plus-0.86).

2.  Power play on home ice… 15.0 percent then (25th), 30.0 percent since (fourth).

3.  Penalty kill on home ice… 60.5 percent then (31st), 80.5 percent since (16th).

4.  Scoring first on home ice… once in 11 games then (T-31st, 1-0-0), 11 times in 15 games since (T-5th; 8-1-2)

5.  One-goal games on home ice… 2-5-1 then (.250 winning percentage/T-27th), 5-0-2 since (.714 winning percentage/T-10th).

1.  The Caps have three players with at least 20 points in road games – Alex Ovechkin (29), John Carlson (23), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (22).

2.  Ovechkin has almost three times as many goals on the road (18) as the next ranked Cap (Conor Sheary: seven).

3.  Washington has two players with plus-minus ratings over plus-10 on the road (Nick Jensen: plus-21) and Dmitry Orlov: plus-15).

4.  Five Caps have multiple game-winning goal totals on the road (Orlov: 4; Sheary: 3; Ovechkkn: 2; Tom Wilson: 2; and Garnet Hathaway: 2).

5.  Five Caps with at least five shots on goal on the road have shooting percentages of at least 20.0 percent (Joe Snively: 30.0; T.J. Oshie: 25.0; Anthony Mantha: 20.0; Beck Malenstyn: 20.0; and Michal Kempny: 20.0).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Vancouver: Thatcher Demko.

It’s Thatcher’s net now.  In his fifth NHL season, Thatcher Demko owns the net for the Vancouver Canucks.  Taken 36th overall (second round) in the 2014 Entry Draft, it was not until 2017-2018 that he saw his first NHL action (one game, a win, 26 saves on 30 shots in a 5-4 overtime win over Columbus).  He appeared in nine games the following season (4-3-1, 2.81, .913) and 27 games in 2019-2020 backing up Jacob Markstrom.  Markstrom departed as a free agent to Calgary after that season, but the Canucks were not entirely sold on turning over the net to Demko, signing Braden Holtby away from Washington as a free agent last season.  Demko started more games than Holtby (35), but a backup getting 21 starts, even with a Stanley Cup pedigree, doesn’t scream confidence in the number one netminder.

Holtby moved on to Dallas after last season, and finally, Demko was given the keys to the car.  He has started 44 of Vancouver’s 58 games to date, Jaroslav Halak getting 12, Spencer Martin getting three, and Michael DiPietro getting one.  His 26 wins are tied with Markstrom for eighth-most in the league, and his 2660 minutes played ranks third in the league.  Among 60 goalies with at least 750 minutes, he ranks 17th in goals against average (2.64), 15th in save percentage (.917), and he has one shutout.  He even has a pair of assists to rank tied for second in goalie scoring.  He has been even better since the coaching change, going 18-5-1 (tied for first in wins), with a 2.38 goals against average (ninth among 58 goalies with at least 400 minutes) and a .924 save percentage (ninth best in that goalie group).  And on home ice since the coaching change, he has been almost impenetrable – 9-1-0, 1.95 (fifth among all goalies since December 6th, when Boudreau took over), .940 (third among all goalies), and one shutout.  Demko is 1-0-0, 2.00, .939 in his only career appearance against Washington.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

-- Shakespeare; “Henry IV,” Part II, Act III, Scene 1

Alex Ovechkin wears no crown, but he is the most important and most recognized member of the Russian delegation to the NHL, in no small part due to his almost daily assault on the NHL record book these days.  He has a lot on his mind that might be cause for some unease in his unique position.  There is the recent dust-up over his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the author of the current hostilities in Ukraine, which we will not delve into here.  There is also his climb up the all-time NHL scoring ladder, his having reached the Jaromir Jagr rung at 766 goals apiece, tied for third among 7,427 skaters to have appeared in the NHL it its history.  It is on-ice where he seems to find relief from whatever uneasiness he might be feeling these days, if his recent performance is an indicator.  Although he was prevented from breaking his tie with Jagr in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime loss to Edmonton on Wednesday, he still has seven goals in his last nine games, four at even strength, and three more on the power play to help awaken what had been a moribund Caps’ team with the man advantage.

If Ovechkin has any additional need for motivation and focus as the Caps visit Vancouver, it will be in facing his former coach, Bruce Boudreau.  Since Boudreau was relieved of his duties with the Caps in November 2011, Ovechkin is 9-9-18 in 12 games against Boudreau-coached teams, including a hat trick/four-point game against Boudreau’s Minnesota Wild in a 5-4 overtime win on March 28, 2017.  Ovechkin also continues to be the straw that stirs the drink, too.  In 27 games in which he has goals this season (tied for fourth-most in the league), the Caps are 19-3-5 (9-2-2 on the road).  He has five goals in his last six road games, including two multi-goal games, against Nashville in a 4-1 win and against Calgary in a 5-4 win.  Ovechkin is 10-8-18, minus-6, in 21 career games against Vancouver.

In the end…

The Caps have assured themselves of a break-even road trip with a win in Calgary and an overtime loss in Edmonton.  But a 1-1-1 record would not be as good as a 2-0-1 record, not to mention a win would put some heat on Pittsburgh in the current battle for third place in the Metropolitan Division (Pittsburgh has a five-point lead and a game in hand on the Caps going into Thursday’s action).  The Caps are in no imminent danger of missing the playoffs, but seeding could matter in the end.  And that means every point matters, even against an old coach leading an improving opponent.

Capitals 5 – Canucks 3