Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 64: Stars at Capitals, March 20th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return home on Sunday after a short, but successful and consequential road trip to host the Dallas Stars in an early evening (5:00 pm) contest at Capital One Arena.  The Caps all but eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets from postseason play with a dominating 7-2 win in Columbus and came back in the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes to force extra time before prevailing in a Gimmick, 4-3.  The Stars will come to Washington to play the back half of a back-to-back set of games after facing the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon.

Dallas has been streaky of late, a four-game winning streak followed by a three-game losing streak (0-3-0) before beating the Montreal Canadiens in overtime, 4-3, on Thursday night.  Even with their recent streaky play, the Stars are 15-7-1 since January 20th, a record that has them on the edge of a playoff spot, one point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

It has been more a matter of defense for the Stars that has brought them back into playoff contention.  And that starts with an odd divergence in performance in goal over those last 23 games.  Former Capital Braden Holtby has limited work and has a 4-2-0 record in his six appearances over this stretch.  But his underlying numbers – 3.47, .893 – have been poor.  It is something of a departure for him this season, which is arguably his best since he led the Caps in goal to the Stanley Cup in 2018.  In four seasons since, his 2.78 goals against average is his best in that span, as is his .913 save percentage.  What he does not have, this season or last or the season before that, is a shutout.  Of 37 goalies to appear in at least 75 games over the last three seasons, Holtby is the only one without a shutout (none in 93 games).  Holtby has a loss in his only career appearance against the Caps, allowing five goals on 27 shots in 40 minutes of work in a 5-0 loss to the Caps on January 28th.

At the other end of the performance spectrum in goal for the Stars over this 15-7-1 run is Jake Oettinger.  He is 11-5-1, 2.29, .926, with one shutout over that span.  That goals against average ranks tenth among 59 goalies logging at least 250 minutes, and his save percentage ranks eighth in that group.  It should not be surprising that Oettinger has performed well.  He was the 26th overall pick and first goalie selected in the 2017 Entry Draft.  If Oettinger has a problem, it is that a fine start has settled into a middle-of-the-road level of performance.  He was 9-2-0 through January 12th, his 2.20 goals against average ranking seventh of 55 goalies with at least 500 minutes, and his save percentage of .923 ranked tenth.  But since then, he is 11-7-1, his 2.63 goals against average over that span ranking 17th of 47 goalies with at least 500 minutes, and his save percentage of .914 ranking 18th.  He is 1-3-0 in his last four appearances with a 3.49 goals against average and a .891 save percentage.  He has had some bad luck on the road of late, going 2-3-1 in his last six road games, despite a 2.32 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.  Oettinger has only 20 minutes of experience against the Caps, stopping both shots he faced in the 5-0 loss to the Caps on January 28th.

Jason Robertson has put the Stars on his back in terms of offensive production over their 15-7-1 run, his 17 goals in those 23 games being more than twice as many as the second-leading goal scorer, Tyler Seguin (eight), his 23 points leading the team, his six power play goals being twice as many as the number posted by Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz (three apiece), his five game-winning goals being more than twice as many as Alexander Radulov and Jacob Peterson (two apiece), and his 21.3 shooting percentage being best of any skater posting at least five shot on goal over that span.  Having reached the 51-games played mark, he has matched last year’s game total.  The production, however, has improved dramatically.  Last year, in 51 games as a rookie, he had 17 goals, second to Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov (21) among rookies.  In 51 games so far this season, Robertson has 30 goals, most of his 2017 draft class this season (he was a second round, 39th overall pick by the Stars).  Last year, his 28 assists led the rookie class, and he has 25 this year in the same volume of games played.  His 45 points last season were second to Kaprizov (51) among rookies, but he has eclipsed that with 55 points in 51 games so far this season.  He has ten power play goals in 51 games this season compared to one in 51 games last season.  He is shooting 19.5 percent this season compared to 13.4 percent last year in the same number of games. 

In terms of his home-road splits this season, Robertson is slightly more productive in road goal scoring (0.67 per game) than at home (0.52).  And, he is shooting 21.9 percent on the road to date, compared to 17.3 percent at home.   Robertson goes into Saturday’s game against the Islanders with nine goals in his last nine games, including hat tricks in consecutive games against Winnipeg (a 4-3 win) and Minnesota (a 6-3 win), in both games providing the game-winning goal, both games on the road.  Robertson has only one appearance against the Caps, going without a point and posting an even rating.

1.  Dallas has started slow on offense in their 15-7-1 run (18 first period goals) and finished slow (19 third period goals), but their 29 second period goals are tied for third-most over that span of games.

2.  The Stars have allowed only 43 5-on-5 goals over those 13 games, tied for seventh-fewest over that period.

3.  Over their 23-game run, Dallas has scored first 12 times, winning ten of those games.  Their .833 winning percentage in those games is tied for fourth-best over that stretch.

4.  Dallas has done well when trailing first as well, posting a 5-5-1 mark when allowing the first goal.  The .455 winning percentage is tied for sixth over that period.

5.  The Stars have been especially successful in one-goal games over their 15-7-1 run, going 9-2-1, their .750 winning percentage ranked first in the league over that period.

1.  After losing six straight games on home ice, the Caps have won their last three contests at Capital One Arena, outscoring opponents, 12-5 (not including Gimmick goals).

2.  In the “not surprising” category, the Caps are 24-2-2 when scoring four or more goals.  They are 11-16-8 when allowing three or fewer.  For the Caps to be successful down the road, they will have to be more successful in low scoring games.

3.  The Caps are 15-11-5 at home this season, the .565 points percentage being their worst since they were 17-17-7 (.500) in 2006-2007.

4.  Defense has been an issue on home ice.  Washington’s 2.94 goals allowed per game are fourth-worst since the 2004-2005 lockout.

5.  If there is a good number in the Caps’ home record this season, it is this – 92.7.  That is their net penalty kill on home ice for the season, once shorthanded goals for are accounted for, their best since the 2004-2005 lockout.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Joe Pavelski

Since he came into the league in 2006-2007, Joe Pavelski has been one of the more unsung players in the NHL.  In 16 seasons since he came into the league, he ranks seventh in games played (1,145), sixth in goals scored (417), tied for 11th in points (903), 12th in plus-minus rating (plus-149), fourth in power play goals (150), tenth in power play points (327), tenth in game-winning goals (68), first among all forwards in blocked shots (985), tied for 15th among all forwards in takeaways (673), and he is the only player to have posted 150 power play goals and ten shorthanded goals over that span of seasons.  Only once in 13 seasons playing in 70 or more games did he fail to hit the 20-goal mark (19 goals in 82 games with San Jose n 2007-2008).  Only once in those 13 seasons did he not reach the 50-point mark (40 points in 82 games in 2007-2008).  He has received Selke Trophy votes as top defensive forward in 12 of his previous 15 seasons, his seventh-place finish last season a career best.  And, he has been a player who has played within the rules, topping 40 penalty minutes only twice in his previous 15 seasons and receiving votes for the Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play six times in his career.

At age 37, Pavelski seems to have slowed down very little, if at all.  He is tied for second on the team in goals (23, with Roope Hintz), first in assists (37), first in points (60), tied for first in power play goals (ten, with Jason Robertson), and tied for first in power play points (17, with Hintz).  He has 30 points in 30 road games this season.  He comes into this game 4-8-12, even, over his last 13 games, including a four-point performance in a 4-1 win over Colorado on February 15th.  Pavelski is 9-12-21, plus-7, in 22 career games against Washington.

Washington: Justin Schultz

Justin Schultz has had his struggles this season.  He has been nicked up from time to time, missing eight games on four separate absences for a variety of injuries and COVID protocol.  And in the 55 games he has played, his offensive output has been off (2-12-14, minus-7).  He suffered a very slow start (1-1-2 in his first 21 games) and has recovered somewhat (1-11-12 in his last 34 games), but his 0.25 points per game being the lowest of his career to date.  His goal scoring has dried up almost entirely.  He is without a goal in his last 27 games.  He is one of eight players over that span with no goals on 40 or more shots (he is 0-for-41).  And one of the odd things about his offensive output, or lack thereof, is that getting more ice time doesn’t help.  In 19 games in which he logged 17:30 or more, he has no goals and has only five points.  Schultz has fared better at home, though, going 2-7-9 in 28 games at Capital One Arena while posting an 0-5-5 scoring line in 27 road games.  Odd Schultz fact… the Caps are 12-3-4 in the 19 games in which Schultz did not have a shot on goal.  Odd Schultz fact 2… although not known as a physical player, the Caps are 14-5-1 in 20 games in which he was credited with at least one hit.  Schultz is 4-6-10, plus-9, in 19 career games against Dallas.

In the end…

This game could be a challenge for the Caps who, after two big road wins, could be lulled into a sense of complacency with their return to their own arena.  And, while the Caps have had good results over the last eight games overall (7-0-1), they have not been dominating of late, four of their last five games going to extra time (3-0-1), two of them to the Gimmick (both ending in wins).  Combine this with Dallas’ desperate drive to reach the postseason, and this could be a tougher game for the Caps than it might appear at first blush.

Capitals 4 – Stars 2