Monday, March 21, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 65: Blues at Capitals, March 22nd

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals will try to bounce back from a frustrating 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars on Sunday when they host another Central Division opponent on Tuesday night.  The St. Louis Blues come to town as the second-place club in the Central but with a three-game losing streak (0-1-2) in their carry-on baggage.

The three-game losing streak for the Blues is part of a difficult month of March in general.  They have sandwiched a four-game and a three-game losing streak around consecutive wins to go 2-4-3 for the month.  Theirs is the 28th-ranked team in winning percentage this month (.389).  It has not been offense that has done in the Blues this month, their 3.22 goals per game tied with Boston and Vancouver for 15th in the league for the month.  Their defense has been rather leaky, though, giving up 3.44 goals per game (tied with Dallas for 19th in scoring defense in March).

It begs the question, what’s up with Jordan Binnington in goal?  The hero of the 2019 Stanley Cup run has had a hard time of it this year after signing a six-year/$36 million contract last March.  Of 52 goalies with at least 1,000 minutes logged this season, Binnington ranks 42nd in goals against average (3.11) and 40th in save percentage (.903).  He started the season well, with a 5-1-0, 2.52, .926, one shutout October, but his numbers then deteriorated.  From November through January, he was 8-9-3, 3.31, .897, with one shutout.  It cost him playing time.  While his numbers rebounded in February (2-1-0, 2.01, .928, one shutout), he started only three games, Ville Husso getting the other five starts (4-0-1, 2.39, .916).  

Binnngton’s numbers have fallen back in March (0-2-1, 3.02, .893), and Husso continues to get the larger share of starts (six, with a 2-2-2, 3.34, .898 record). It is part of a more general decline in performance since his Stanley Cup turn in 2019.  Among 60 goalies with at least 2,500 minutes played over the last three seasons, including this one, Binnington ranks 27th in goals against average (2.73) and 31st in save percentage (.909).  Of 57 goalies appearing in at least 50 games over that period, he ranks 23rd in even strength save percentage (.918), and he has been weak against power plays, ranking 44th with a .856 save percentage.  Goalie numbers are not always the goalie’s problem, but Binnington’s numbers have fallen off considerably since winning the Cup.  He is 0-0-1, 2.86, .912 in his only career appearance against Washington.

St. Louis has not had a lot of offensive support from the defense to offset the general defensive weakness in March.  As a group, they have four of the 29 goals scored by the Blues in March, two of them by former Boston Bruin Torey Krug, who is in his second season in St. Louis after signing a seven-year/$45.5 million deal with the Blues in October 2020.  Krug, who wrapped up his stay in Boston with five straight 40-plus point seasons (three of them over 50 points), has had numbers in St. Louis that, on a rate basis, are virtually identical to those he posted in nine seasons in Boston.  His goal scoring is a bit off (0.09 goals per game in 107 games with the Blues, 0.13 goals per game in 523 games with the Bruins), but his assists (0.52 per game in Boston, 0.53 per game in St. Louis) and points (0.64 per game in Boston, 0.63 per game in St. Louis) are consistent.  As one might expect for a defenseman from whom offense is needed and expected, his production matters.  The Blues are 19-5-3 in the 27 games in which he has points, 5-1-2 in the eight games in which he posted a goal.  Odd Krug fact… he skated less than 20 minutes in 14 games this season, going 2-7-9, plus-8, and the Blues are 11-1-2 in those games.  Krug is 1-6-7, minus-4, in 19 career games against the Caps.

The Blues have not been shy about using rookies this season.  Seven rookies have dressed for the Blues so far this season, four of them appearing in at least 20 games.  Forward Klim Kostin leads that group with 40 games played, but he was reassigned to the AHL earlier this month.  That leaves defenseman Jake Walman as the senior, so to speak, rookie with 32 games played so far this season.  He is 3-3-6, plus-3, in 32 games to date, one of six players in the seven-member Blues rookie class to post at least one goal, and he is second in that class in ice time (11:50 per game).  It has been a long climb for Walman to get significant playing time in the NHL after being taken in the third round of the 2014 Entry Draft (82nd overall) by the Blues.  He spent three years with Providence College in the NCAA after he was drafted and followed that up with stints with three AHL teams before getting his first shot in the NHL in 2019-2020 in which he appeared in one game.  He played in 24 games with the Blues last season, preserving his rookie status for this year, and at age 25, he might be in a position at last to get regular minutes with an NHL team.  Walman has never played against Washington.

1.  Those two extra time losses in their three-game losing streak are not unusual.  The Blues have had a difficult time with the extra time, going 3-9 when playing past regulation.

2.  St. Louis has the league’s best power play on the road this season (28.2 percent).  They and the New York Rangers are the only teams in the league that are top-five on both sides of special teams (the Blues are fourth in road penalty killing at 83.3 percent).

3.  Only four teams have allowed fewer first period goals on the road than the Blues (22, tied with Boston).

4.  St. Louis has scored 59 goals at 5-on-5 on the road, and they have allowed 59 goals.

5.  The Blues are 9-2-2 when leading on the road after two periods.  While that might seem like a good record, the .692 winning percentage ranks 29th in the league.

1.  Alex Ovechkin is tied for third in the league (with David Pastrnak) in goals scored on home ice (20).

2.  Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuzhetsov are tied for 19th in the league in assists on home ice (23 apiece).

3.  Kuznetsov is tied for seventh in the league in game-winning goals on home ice (four).

4.  Kuznetsov it tied for fourth in shorthanded goals on home ice (two) and tied for the lead in shorthanded points (four).

5.  Ovechkin is the only player in the league to average more than five power play minutes per game on home ice (5:03).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

St. Louis: David Perron

While the Blues have had a difficult March to date, one wonders how much worse it might be if not for the production of David Perron.  His ten goals in nine games represents more than a third of the goals scored by St. Louis this month (29).  Going back to the last game of February, he has 12 goals in nine games, scored goals in eight of those nine games, and is shooting 28.6 percent.  Oddly enough, none of the 12 goals were game-winners, but then again, the Blues won only three of those nine games (3-3-3).  That he would break out like a volcanic eruption might not have been expected, given that he has one goal in 13 games leading up to his recent run.

Not that Perron is an infrequent goal scorer.  He is not among the elite goal scorers over his 15-year career, but he has topped 20 goals six times in that span, including 21 in 47 games this season.  In the 14 seasons in which he dressed for more than ten games, this is his most productive in goal scoring on a per-game basis (0.45 per game) and in goals per 60 minutes (1.6).  Odd Perron fact… St. Louis is 15-3-4 when he skated 17:07 or less in ice time, 11-11-3 when he skated more.  He is 1-10-11, even, in 20 career games against Washington.

Washington: Trevor van Riemsdyk

When Michal Kempny was acquired by the Caps from Chicago in 2018, he quietly became the “glue” that stabilized the Caps defensive pairs, contributing to their run to the Stanley Cup.  Trevor van Riemsdyk is in his second season with the Caps, but what he shares with Kempny in his magical introduction to Washington is a certain unsung quality about his play that masks his being able to play with consistency and with a solid game, if paired effectively (generally as a third-pair defenseman), as his Corsi-with and Corsi-without numbers with individual defensive partners suggests (source: 

His offense has been relatively sparse, but in the 14 games in which he has points, the Caps are 9-3-2.  And, in the 11 games in which he logged at least 20 minutes, the Caps are 8-2-1.  His degree of offensive engagement outside of scoring – shots on goal, for instance – has a bit of an odd character to it.  In 15 games in which he recorded at least two shots on goal the Caps are 5-4-6.  What is also a bit strange is the frustrating lack of goal scoring.  He is not an offensive defenseman by any means, but he is laboring with one goal on 60 shots in 58 games.  He is one of 14 players in the league with one or fewer goals on 60 or more shots, but he shares membership in this club with Zdeno Chara (1-for-62), Tyler Myers (1-for-100), and Duncan Keith (1-for-60), defensemen with a more renowned history of offense.  What remains to be seen is whether he is going to be missed as a regular fixture, his having gone to injured reserve for an upper-body injury.  Van Riemsdyk is 1-4-5, even, in 16 career games against St. Louis.

In the end…

St. Louis is one of those teams with a reputation for being hard to play against.  They grind, they are not a run-and-gun team, or so the history suggests.  They are less than that this season (25th in hits per 60 minutes (19.97), 22nd in total penalties taken (218), tied for 25th in major penalties (10)), and they have had a curious lack of success in one-goal games (six wins, tied with Montreal for last in the league, and last in winning percentage (.273/6-7-9)).  If the Caps play a “heavy” game, it could be a problem for the Blues.

Capitals 3 – Blues 2