Sunday, March 27, 2022

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 24

If there is truth in the saying that it’s not how you start, but how you finish, the Caps had a decent week.  Two losses followed by two wins, and the Caps finished as they started – fourth in the Metropolitan Division, in little danger of missing a playoff spot, but not inspiring a lot of confidence that this is the Caps’ year for a deep postseason run.

Record (2-2-0)

The break-even week snapped a three-week string of winning weeks, but it still meant that the Caps extended their non-losing streak to four weeks, going 9-3-1 over that span.  The Caps continued to struggle at home, though, going 1-2-0 at Capital One Arena for the week.  It left the Caps with a 16-13-5 record on home ice, 21st in the league in points (37) and in points percentage (.544).  The points percentage was at week’s end the 33rd-ranked points percentage in 47 seasons to date and third-worst since the 2004-2005 lockout.

Offense: 2.75 / game (season: 3.27 / 9th)

It was not a particular productive week for the Caps on the offensive side of the puck, but again, it is how you finish, and the Caps had consecutive four-goal games to close the week. Eight different Caps shared in the 11 goals for the week, led by Alex Ovechkin with three, one of them a game-winner, bringing his career total to 772 and 13 in his last 17 games.  Tom Wilson was the other multi-goal scorer for the week (two).

Wilson led the 11 Capitals with points for the week with five, followed by John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov with four apiece.  Carlson had an unusual week in that he tied for the team lead in shots on goal with 14 (with Ovechkin). In what might be one of those “signs of life” facts for the week, Connor McMichael had a goal, giving him two in his last six games after posting only two in his previous 23 games.

Defense: 3.50 / game (season: 2.82 / 11th)

The Caps allowed an average of 30.5 shots on goal per game for the week, 13th fewest in the league, a bit higher than their sixth-ranked 29.3 shots on goal allowed for the season.  Washington also allowed 186 shot attempts at 5-on-5, eighth-most in the league and eighth-most among the 11 teams playing four games for the week.  It was a bit deceptive in that the Caps finished minus-11 in 5-on-5 shot attempts, for and against, for the week, 19th in the league and fifth among the 11 teams playing four games for the week.  Anthony Mantha was on ice for most goals against at even strength (six), while he and John Carlson were both a minus-3 for the week in even strength on-ice goal differential.  Tom Wilson was tops on the other end of the goal differential spectrum, going plus-3.

Goaltending: 3.25 / .893 (season: 2.67 / .908 / 7 shutouts)

Vitek Vanecek got the larger share of work for the week, logging 174:49 in ice time for the week over three games to 65:00 for Ilya Samsonov in his only appearance.  Vanecek struggled over his three games with a 3.43 goals against average and .989 save percentage, and it is part of a pattern.  He finished the week having allowed three or more goals in six of seven appearances.  His overall record over that span -- 5-2-0, 3.14, .905 – might be a source of his concern if one believes he is the goalie the Caps will lean on down the stretch and into the postseason.

Ilya Samsonov got one game for the week, and his performance did not inspire much confidence going forward, either.  Allowing three goals on 23 shots to a struggling Buffalo team was not the sort of performance that pushed him ahead of Vanecek in the ongoing goalie competition.  He finished the week with a 4-3-1 (one no-decision), 3.21, .882 record in his last nine games. 

Power Play: 3-for-10 / 30.0 percent (season: 19.9 percent / 19th).

The Caps posted their fourth straight week with a power play of 30.0 percent or better in Week 24.  Over that span they are 14-for-39 (35.9 percent), the third-best power play in the league over that span.  Alex Ovechkin had a pair of power play goals for the week, and Evgeny Kuznetsov had the other.  Kuznetsov’s power play goal gave him five goals with the man advantage in his last 12 contests since the beginning of March, tied for third-most in the league over that stretch.  What the Caps did not get, though, was production from a second power play unit.  All five players posting points on the man advantage for the week were on the top power play unit – Ovechkin (2-0-2), Kuznetsov (1-2-3), Carlson (0-2-2), Wilson (0-1-1, and Nicklas Backstrom (0-1-1).

Penalty Killing: 7-for-10 / 70.0 percent (season: 80.3 percent / 14th)

The Caps had their worst week on the penalty kill since Week 18 (5-for-8/62.5 percent).  They were tied for 20th in the league for the week in penalty killing efficiency.  It might have been worse but for averaging 2.50 shorthanded situations per game, tied for 18th-most for the week.  That is an area the Caps have managed fairly well this season, averaging 2.73 shorthanded situations per game, 23rd-most in the league.

Faceoffs: 90-for-211 / 42.7 percent (47.2 percent / 29th)

Even by Caps standards, it was a poor week in the circle.  The Caps were below 50 percent in all three zones (below 45 percent in the offensive and defensive ends), and no Capital taking at least ten draws finished the week at 50 percent or better.  How bad was it?  Marcus Johansson was the only Capital among eight taking at least one faceoff to finish over 50 percent.  He was 1-for-1.

Goals by Period

Poor starts did in the Caps, who had a minus-2 goal differential in the first periods and a minus-3 differential in the second periods of games for the week.  Second periods were the biggest problem for the Caps in Week 24; they allowed second period goals in each of the four games for the week, three times allowing a pair of goals.  And, the goals for in third periods were deceptive for the inconsistency.  Three of the four third period goals came in the Caps’ 4-3 win over New Jersey to end the week. 

In the end…

Not every week will be perfect, and the Caps did manage to drag themselves up after a poor start for the week to finish 2-2-0.  It did seem a bit like an opportunity lost, though, since the Caps are about to embark of a tough stretch of games that will see them facing Carolina, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Boston in their next five games.  The Caps will have to have a more consistent level of effort than they displayed at times in Week 24 if they are to have success on that upcoming stretch.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Tom Wilson (2-3-5, plus-3, 10 shots on goal, ten credited hits, four takeaways,
  • Second Star: Alex Ovechkin (3-0-3, plus-1, one game-winning goal, 14 shots on goal, eight credited hits)
  • Third Star: Evgeny Kuznetov (1-3-4, even, 12 shots on goal, 1-2-3 on power plays)

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 68: Hurricanes at Capitals, March 28th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals head into the new week facing the Carolina Hurricanes in the second game of their current four-game home stand.  The Caps won the first game of their home stand, beating the New Jersey Devils, 4-3, on Saturday night.  The Hurricanes will arrive in DC after smothering the St. Louis Blues, 7-2, in St. Louis on Saturday night.

Truth be told, Carolina, for all its gaudy 43-15-7 overall record, has been a good team but not necessariy elite for a couple of months.  Since the calendar turned over to February, the Hurricanes are 12-6-5.  Their .630 points percentage over that span ranks eighth in the league, and things have gotten a bit worse for the ‘Canes recently.  In March, Carolina is 6-4-3, tied for 11th in points earned (15) and 17th in points percentage (.577).  March has seen a shrinking of their offensive production, their 2.62 goals per game tied for 27th in scoring offense for the month, and this despite a seven-goal outburst in St. Louis in their last game.

Carolina does have 14 skaters with goals this month, but five of them have but one.  Sebastian Aho, to perhaps no one’s surprise, leads the Hurricanes in goals for the month with five.  The five goals give him 28 on the season, putting him in position to record the third 30-goal season of his six-year career.  And his goals really matter in terms of Carolina success.  Aho has goals in 22 games this season, and Carolina is 20-1-1 in those games.  He has six multi-goal games, and the Hurricanes won all of them.  He has not been scoring in bunches lately, though.  He has two multi-goal games in the new year, none since February 10th, a string of 20 games.  He can still put strings of games with goals together, though.  Over his last 14 games he has a two-game and a three-game streak of goal scoring.  But goal scoring is not the only scoring dimension he has.  Over his last 22 games, Aho has points in 17 of them, going 9-10-19 over that stretch.

Aho is making his way up the all-time rankings in franchise history and doing so in a highly productive fashion.  Despite ranking 30th all-time in games played (428), he ranks 11th in goals scored (173), one behind his head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.  He seems a virtual lock to finish the season passing Sylvan Turgeon (178) for ninth place.  He is tied with Pat Verbeek for tenth place all-time in assists (211) and could finish the season as high as seventh (Jeff O’Neill: 218).  His 384 points rank seventh on the all-time franchise list, and with a push he could pass Verbeek (403) for sixth place.  He has 33 game winning goals, sixth in franchise history, and could finish the season in fourth place (Kevin Dineen: 37).  He is already the all-time franchise leader in overtime goals (seven) and is second in shorthanded goals (12).  Aho is 8-10-18, minus-1, in 19 career games against Washington.

Another Hurricane making his way up the all-time franchise rankings is doing so much more quietly.  That would be defenseman Brett Pesce, not exactly a household name outside of Raleigh (and perhaps in not many households in Raleigh, either).  Now in his seventh season with Carolina after he was drafted in the third round (66th overall) by the Hurricanes in the 2013 Entry Draft, Pesce is eighth on the all-time franchise list of games played by a Carolina defenseman (458) and seems likely to pass Ulf Samuelsson (463) for seventh place by year’s end.  He ranks 14th in goals scored by a defenseman (30) and could pass Samuelsson and Sylvain Cote (31) shortly to move up in the rankings.  His 119 assists with Carolina is tied with Sean Hill for eighth place, while his 149 points rank tenth.  Of those 30 career goals, seven of them are game-winners, tied for fourth among defensemen for the franchise. 

Pesce has had a solid year for Carolina, his six goals in 53 games ranking third among defensemen, and his 22 points rank fourth despite missing 12 games to COVID protocol and an undisclosed reason earlier this season.  Those six goals are within one of a career high of seven set in 73 games in 2018-2019, and his 22 points are his fourth 20-point season in his career to date.  While not generally thought of as an offensive defenseman, he does have seven points in his last 16 games, usually an indicator of Carolina success, the Hurricanes going 16-2-2 in the 20 games in which he has points this season.  Pesce is 0-3-3, even, in 19 career games against the Caps.

Frederik Andersen is likely to get some attention among Vezina Trophy voters at season’s end as the league’s top goalie.  But the Hurricanes have leaned rather heavily on Antti Raanta as a backup this season.  Raanta has carved out a solid career primarily in a backup role, and he has been that in 20 games for the Hurricanes this season, going 11-4-3 (two no-decisions), 2.30, .919, with two shutouts. It is part of an nine-year career with four teams (Arizona, Chicago, the New York Rangers, and Carolina) in which he has put up solid numbers generally – 104-69-23, 2.44, .919, with 15 shutouts.  He has been consistent in his performance, allowing more than three goals only twice in those 20 appearances and more than two goals only eight times.  Only four times in 18 games in which he played the entire contest did he finish with a save percentage under .900.  Raanta does have a distinct home/road split in his season to date, though, going 7-1-1, 1.76, .939, with two shutouts in nine home appearances and 4-3-2, 2.83, .900 in 11 games on the road.  He has been sharp of late, going 5-1-2, 2.20, .930, with one shutout over his last eight appearances.  Raanta is 3-1-1, 2.37, .926 in six career appearances against the Caps.

1.  If Carolina wins on Monday night, it will be their 20th road win this season, the fifth time in 42 seasons in franchise history that they hit the 20-win mark on the road.

2.  Carolina’s 2.66 goals allowed per game on the road is the second best scoring defense on the road in team history.

3.  The Hurricanes’ 86.6 percent penalty kill on the road is second-best in team history.

4.  Keeping with the second-best theme, the 33.7 shots on goal per game on the road is, yes, second-highest in team history.

5.  Carolina is 7-4 in decisions by three or more goals on the road this season, their .636 winning percentage ranking, of course, second in team history.

1.  With a win, the Caps would be the only team in the league to date to complete a four-game season series sweep of the Hurricanes.

2.  The Caps are one of six teams in the league this season with a scoring offense and a scoring defense 3.00 goals per game or higher on home ice (3.12 on offense, 3.00 on defense).

3.  Washington has allowed four overtime goals on home ice this season, tied for second-most in the league.

4.  The Caps have dressed 34 skaters this season; 31 of them have points.  Only Marcus Johansson (three games), Mike Vecchione (one game), and Alexander Alexeyev (one game) have been shut out.

5.  Washington has 32 non-Gimmick wins this season.  Fourteen different Caps have game-winning goals in those 32 wins.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Carolina: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

In the 2018 Entry Draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was taken with the third overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens.  He broke into the Canadiens’ lineup the following October and played in 79 games as an 18-year old, going 11-23-34, plus-1.  He was tied for 16th among rookies in goals scored in that season, tied for sixth in assists, and ninth in points.  As the youngest skater for the Canadiens that season, things looked promising for the years ahead.  Little did anyone know that Kotkaniemi’s rookie season would be his high-water mark in performance in his three seasons in Montreal.  Over the next two seasons he went 11-17-28 in 92 games.  Montreal might have been inclined to allow him some space to grow into a more responsible, productive role, but they did not get that chance.  Carolina tendered an offer sheet to Kotkaniemi as a restricted free agent for $6.1 million on a one-year deal.  Kotkaniemi signed the offer sheet, and Montreal declined to match the offer. He rebounded in this, his first year with Carolina with a 11-14-25 season through 62 games.  He was rewarded for that performance, and perhaps his potential, with a max contract, an eight-year/$38.56 million deal with a modified no-trade clause covering the last five years of the deal signed on March 22nd (source:  He has hit something of a wall lately, though.  Kotkaniemi is 0-3-3, even, and has 23 penalty minutes over his last 16 games.  He is 3-2-5, plus-1, in seven career games against Washington.

Washington: Lars Eller

Last season was not one of Lars Eller’s most productive years, going 8-15-23, minus-1, in 44 games.  This year has been worse, Eller posting a scoring line of 9-14-23, minus-7, in 57 games to date.  His goals per 60 minutes this season are the second-lowest of his career (0.6), although his assists per game (0.9/game; sixth-highest in his 13-year career) and points per game (1.5/seventh) are in the middle of the pack in his career rankings.  Pat of his production problem, at least as far as goal scoring is concerned, is a drop off in his shooting frequency, his 5.3 shots per 60 minutes being the lowest of his career to date.  Eller has also been especially quiet on home ice, going 3-6-9, minus-16, in 31 home games compared to 6-8-14, plus-9, in 26 road games.  He has only one point (a goal) in his last 12 games at Capital One Arena.  It is quite unusual for Eller, especially when it comes to goal scoring, his career splits being 86-89-175, plus-3, in 421 home games for three teams and 63-102-165, minus-33, in 434 road games.  Eller is 11-6-17, plus-14, in 37 career games against Carolina.

In the end…

The Caps have risen to the challenge of a highly-skilled team in the Hurricanes this season.  Perhaps it is that these two teams seem to dislike each other quite a bit.  Nevertheless, the Caps have a chance to send something of a message with this game, that perhaps if they meet in the postseason, a Hurricane series win is not the foregone conclusions some folks might think it is. 

Capitals 3 – Hurricanes 2