The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals, looking to get the bad taste of consecutive losses at home our of their mouths, head to chicken wing country to face the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Friday night. The challenge for the Caps, in addition to skating in an enemy rink, is to display something more than what looked like an indifferent effort in their 5-2 loss at home to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night. The challenge for Buffalo is to try to finish another lost season with a sense of pride and mission while looking forward to how they can improve for next season.
These teams last met on December 11th in Buffalo, a 3-2 Gimmick win for the Caps in Buffalo. Since then, neither team has really distinguished itself. With that victor in December, the Caps advanced their record to 17-5-6, but since then, they are 18-15-4, 18th in the league in points earned and in points percentage (.541). Their 3.16 goals per game over that span rank 16th, while their 3.05 goals allowed per game scoring defense ranks 16th as well. Their special teams 0f 21.9 percent on power plays (15th) and 78.1 percent penalty kill (18th) are similarly middle-of-the-road. Buffalo, a thoroughly “twenty something” team, rank 27th in scoring offense (2.59) and 20th in scoring defense (3.41). Their 25th ranked power play (18.1 percent) and 27th ranked penalty kill (73.5 percent) over that span reflect their overall statistical profile over that span.
Alex Tuch was obtained by the Sabres in November from the Vegas Golden Knights in a somewhat complicated trade deal for essentially Jack Eichel going west to Las Vegas. He was expected to replace some of the offense Eichel might have been expected to produce, and he has been one of the few bright spots for Buffalo since that loss to the Caps in December. In 32 games since then, he is 8-18-26, plus-6, his 0.81 points per game ranking second over that span among Sabres appearing in at least five games. However, his performance is lagging behind previous years in a couple of areas. This might be a product of a shoulder injury that required surgery and delayed his participation the Sabres after the trade until December 29th, almost two months after the trade with Vegas. And, he has been in COVID protocol since, missing two games in early January. His 8.1 shooting percentage is the worst for a full season in his career to date. His goals per 60 minutes are down a third from last season in Vegas (from 1.2 to 0.8 per 60 minutes). But in other respects, he has done quite well, his assists per 60 minutes being the best of his career (1.8) a product of a career-best 1.2 primary assists per 60 minutes. The result is that his points per 60 minutes (2.6) is the best of his career to date.
Tuch’s contributions have been important, the Sabres going 10-6-3 in the 19 games in which he has points to date, 3-10-0 when he fails to put a mark on the score sheet. He has, by far, the best goal differential/on ice-off ice at even strength since that loss the Caps in December, despite the limited number of games in which he played – plus-8, five points better than Zemgus Girgensons and Jaycob Bryson. Tuch is 2-1-3, plus-2, in three career games against the Caps.
Rasmus Dahlin is a study in the limits of drafting a defenseman with the first overall pick of the draft. Dahlin was the first overall pick of the 2018 Entry Draft and the first of 70 defensemen taken in that draft, almost a third of the entire draft class of 217 picks. Dahlin is one of 23 defensemen from that class to dress for at least one NHL game. He leads the defensemen in his class in games played (259), goals (27), game-winning goals (seven), power play goals (10)), credited hits (333), blocked shots (232), total minutes played (5,559), and penalty minutes (156); is second in assists (119), total points (146), takeaways (86), (in all three categories trailing Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes).
But despite impressive numbers over his four years with the club, the Sabres are just 101-137-33, 29th of 31 teams in existence over all four seasons in points (235) and points percentage (.434). Over those four seasons, his minus-74 is third-worst among 459 defensemen to dress for at least one NHL game. His minus-55 goal differential at even strength is tied for fourth-worst in the league over that span, but not as much a product of goals against on-ice in such situations (although the 242 goals against on-ice at evens is tied for 14th-most in the league), he has been on ice for only 187 goals for at evens in 259 games, tied for 77th in the league over those four seasons. He is not in a position, or plays one in fact, that allows him to drive play as much as, say, a center taken with a number one pick might. And the Sabres have not done a very good job in building around him. Perhaps the Sabres will fare better having taken defenseman Owen Power with the top overall pick in the 2021 draft. Dahlin is 2-6-8, minus-11, in 15 career games against the Caps.
No team in the league has employed more goaltenders this year than the Sabres, six in all (Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, Malcolm Subban, Michael Houser, Aaron Dell, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, for the record; New Jersey has also employed six goalies). Anderson and Tokarski have taken the most starts, 21 and 20, respectively, with similar results. Anderson is 12-9-0, 3.04, .904; while Tokarski is 6-9-4, 3.09, .906, with the team’s only shutout, a 24-save effort in a 1-0 overtime win against Calgary on March 18th. Of the two, since the loss to the Caps in December, Tokarski has had the better performance numbers, 1 2.72 goals against average to 3.26 for Anderson, and a .911 save percentage to Anderson’s .897. But Tokarski’s record (2-4-1 in seven appearances) is inferior to that of Anderson (8-7-0 in 15 appearances).
Neither would appear to be in the Sabres’ plans moving forward. Even with a current combined cap hit of $1.475 million and not performing at levels that would seem in line for significant raises, both are unrestricted free agents after this season, and both rather advanced in age to be building around (Tokarski will be 33 to open next season, and Anderson will turn 41 this May). And consider that Tokarski has never had a season of more than the 21 games he has appeared in this season for Buffalo. While the Sabres have considerable room under the salary cap this season, they have eight players about to reach unrestricted free agent status at the end of this season and three more on injured reserve (Subban, Boychuk and Caggiula) about to go UFA. It is a lot of roster spots that the Sabres might have to fill. They could go for a big signing, but it seems at least as likely that they go younger from one of the prospects in their organization. Anderson is 11-9-2, 2.61, .915, with two shutouts in 23 career appearances against Washington, while Tokarski is 2-2-1, 2.94, .903, in five career games against the Caps.
1. Buffalo has not had a shutout on home ice since October 14, 2019, when they shut out the Dallas Stars, 4-0, a string of 91 home games without a shutout and counting.
2. In the 37 games played by the Sabres since they last met the caps, they have the most misconduct penalties in the league (eight), three more than Florida and Vegas. They are the only team in that span to have taken exactly as many penalties as they have drawn (134 apiece).
3. Buffalo has the worst faceoff percentage in the league since they last faced the Caps (46.2 percent).
4. In their 37 games since the December meeting against Washington, the Sabres have the third-worst record in the league when leading after two periods by winning percentage (8-1-3/.667).
5. Since Buffalo last faced the Caps, only Anaheim has fewer wins when trailing after two periods (one) than the Sabres (two, tied with four other teams).
1. In their 37 games since last facing Buffalo, the Caps have allowed 47 second period goals, second-most in the league over that span (New Jersey 52).
2. Over that span, the Caps have scored only 70 goals at 5-on-5, 25th in the league.
3. On the other side, they allowed only 69 goals at 5-on-5, seventh-fewest in the league. However, they allowed four goals at 5-on-6, second-most in the league (tied with Dallas and Columbus, and trailing Colorado (six)).
4. The Caps scored 11 empty net goals over those 37 games, tied for fourth-most in the league.
5. Washiington scored first in 23 of those last 37 games, but their winning percentage of .565 in those games (13-7-3) is third-worst in the league over that span.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Buffalo: Tage Thompson
So, just what deal did Tage Thompson make with fate to have the season he is having? In 145 games over tour seasons before this one, he compiled a total of just 18 goals and 35 points. Through 60 games this season he already has 27 goals and 48 points, both of which lead the team. He has spread the goal scoring around by situation, scoring 19 at even strength (second on the team), six on power plays (tied for the team lead with Kyle Okposo), and two shorthanded goals (leads the team). He is shooting at a 13.2 percent rate of success, almost five percentage points better than hie previous career best (8.3 percent with the Sabres last season). He has almost twice as many shots on goal (205) as his previous career best (108 least season). And, given Buffalo’s standard of performance this season (generally poor), his goal scoring matters. The Sabres are 10-9-1 in the 20 games in which he has a goal, 11-22-7 in the 40 games in which he did not post a goal.
Thompson has been especially productive on home ice, posting a scoring line of 19-12-31, plus-3, and 16.0 shooting percentage in 31 games. Compare that to his road scoring line of 8-9-17, minus-14, and a 9.3 shooting percentage. He has 13 goals in his last 18 games overall (the Sabres posting a 9-9-0 record) and nine in his last 11 games at home, including three multi-goal games (the Sabers being 6-4-1 in those 11 games). In 14 career games against Washington, Thompson is 2-3-5, minus-2.
Washington: John Carlson
For a player who is sixth in goals and tied for sixth in points among defensemen. John Carlson is sure flying below the radar. The white hot run of offense by Nashville’s Roman Josi (an 11-game points streak over which he is 4-21-25 and 35 points in his last 19 games), the youthful production of Cale Makar (first in goals by defensemen with 22 and second in points (71) to Josi (78)), and the solid year defending Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox is having (10-54-64) have overshadowed what has been a consistently productive season on offense for Carlson (11-42-53).
And that consistency extends to a season-by-season basis. Since 2010-2011, when Carlson became a full-time member of the Caps, no defenseman has more 30-point seasons than Carlson (11, tied with Drew Doughty and Kris Letang). Since 2014-2015, only Josi (seven) has more 10-goal/40-point seasons than Carlson (six). His goals per 60 minutes (0.5) is third-best of his career, while his assists per 60 minutes (1.7) and points per 60 minutes (2.2) each rank second in his career. And, for as much grief he gets about inconsistent play in the defensive zone, he is a respectable plus-16 in even strength goal differential (24th in the league). His 51 on-ice goals against is fewer than Fox (53), Letang (53), Josi (61), Hedman (64), or Burns (79, most in the league). It is just that when he is on-ice for even strength goals against, bad things usually result – a 14-14-7 record for the Caps in the 35 games for which he has been on ice for an even strength goal. Carlson is 4-12-16, plus-2, in 39 career games against Buffalo.
In the end…
Do not take the Sabres for granted. Since March 1st, they are 7-3-0, tied for the seventh-best record in the league by points (14) and tied for fourth in points percentage (.700). They have done it with tighter defense, their 2.80 goals allowed per game over those ten games being the ninth-best scoring defense in the league over that span. The Sabres are 4-2-0 at home since March 1st. And this will be the first of a back-to-back set of games for the Caps, who will host New Jersey on Saturday night. It makes for one of those “trap” games teams encounter from time to time over the course of the regular season. What the Caps cannot afford here is the same sort of indifferent level of effort they appeared to have in their loss to St. Louis earlier this week.
Capitals 4 – Sabres 2