The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals take the ice for the third game of their four-game home stand on Sunday evening when they host the Minnesota Wild at Capital One Arena. The Caps will try to reverse a mysterious and disturbing trend of difficulties on home ice, while the Wild will try to improve on a dismal road record over the last two months.
Since winning four straight on the road to end January and begin February, the Wild are 3-6-1 in their last ten road games going into Saturday’s game in Carolina against the Hurricanes. Over those ten road games, the Wild have been adequately productive on offense (3.30 goals per game/tenth in the league), but their 4.10 goals allowed per game ranks 27thin scoring offense over that period.
Goaltending in those road games have been an issue with Kaapo Kahkonen posting a 1-4-1, 2.87, .907 record in six appearances, and Cam Talbot going 2-2-0, 4.48, .859 in four appearances. With Marc-Andre Fleury expected to get the nod against Carolina on Saturday, it might be Talbot getting the call against the Caps in the back half of the back-to-back games. Talbot has been something of an enigma over the last month. Despite his iffy recent road numbers, he has been sharp overall of late, going 7-0-1, 2.21, .926, with one shutout in eight games since March 8th. Then again, only one of those games was on the road, in Detroit where he allowed five goals on 34 shots in a 6-5 Gimmick win. And even with his recent road stumbles, his home/road splits are not all that different – 15-4-2, 2.68, .912, with one shutout at home, 12-8-0, 2.98, .910, with one shutout on the road. Talbot not only has had something of an odd season, he has had a strange career arc. He started his NHL career with two seasons in New York with the Rangers, over which he was 33-15-5, 2.00, .931, with eight shutouts in 57 games. But in four stops since (Edmonton, Philadelphia, Calgary, and Minnesota) he has not really come close to maintaining that early career promise, going 163-127-27, 2.74, .910, with 18 shutouts in 332 games. Talbot is 3-7-0, 2.77, .907 in 12 career games against Washington.
Things happen when Kevin Fiala is on the ice, at least lately in road games. The Wild have scored 27 goals at 5-on-5 in their last ten road games, and Fiala has been on ice for 15 of them. On the other side, Minnesota has allowed 24 goals at fives, and Fiala was on ice for 14 of them. He is the team leader in both categories over those ten road games. It is all a part of what in some respects could be thought of as a career year for Fiala. Through 66 games heading into Saturday’s game in Carolina, he has 23 goals, tied for his career best (in 2017-2019 with Nashville and in 2019-2020 with the Wild). He has 38 assists, a career high; 61 points, another career high. He is a plus-15, the second best of his career (plus-20 in 2017-2018 with the Predators) and after five consecutive seasons as a minus player. He already has 212 shots on goal, 35 more than he had with Nashville in 2017-2018. His 17:23 in average ice time is a career high. And, he has been consistent in his scoring, registering at least one point in 43 of 66 games. He has been very productive overall of late, going 6-11-17, plus-8, over his last 15 games that include four multi-point games. Going into Saturday’s game against the Hurricanes, Fiala had a five-game points streak. He is 2-6-8, plus-3, in nine career games against the Caps.
With Matt Boldy, with his 12 goals and 27 points in just 35 games, listed as day-to-day and uncertain for the game on Sunday (he is said to be out of Saturday’s game) with an upper-body injury, Brandon Duhaime is the rookie leader in goals (six) and points (16) going into Sunday’s game in Washington. Duhaime was a fourth-round pick (106th overall) in the 2016 Entry Draft. After spending three years in the Providence College program in the NCAA, he moved on to the Iowa Wild for two seasons before breaking through with the parent club this season. Duhaime was not an extraordinary scorer at either the college (22-50-72 in 117 games at Providence) or in the AHL (12-17-29 in 87 games in the AHL), but his 16 points do rank in the top-30 among rookies this season, a decent first season considering he is averaging just 10:24 in ice time per night. The Wild have yet to lose a game in regulation when he scores a goal (5-0-1), and they are 11-3-1 in those games in which he had at least one point. He has been a more efficient shooter on the road in 32 games (four goals on 38 shots/10.5 shooting percentage) than he has been at home (two goals on 44 shots/4.5 percent), but he is also a minus-8 on the road, whereas he is plus-2 at home. This would be his first career appearance against Washington.
About that other goalie for the Wild. Marc-Andre Fleury has allowed five or more goals in nine of 47 appearances so far this season. Only Detroit’s Alex Nedeljkovic and Arizona’s Karel Vejmelka have had more instances (ten apiece).
2. If the Caps have a one-goal lead late, an empty net goal comes into play. Minnesota has allowed 11 goals at 6-on-5 so far this season on the road, third-most in the league (Philadelphia and Detroit each have allowed 12).
3. Minnesota is one of two teams not allowing a goal in overtime in a road game this season (Dallas is the other).
4. The Wild have allowed two shorthanded goals on the road this season, tied for third-fewest in the league (Arizona allowed one; Dallas has not allowed any).
5. Minnesota has scored only one shorthanded goal in road games this season. Only Vancouver, Dallas, and San Jose have allowed none.
1. Washington has seven players with an even-strength on-ice goal differential of plus-10 or better. Last season they had just five in 56 games. This year’s group of seven include Nick Jensen (plus-23), Garnet Hathaway (plus-18), Dmitry Orlov (plus-17), Tom Wilson (plus-13), John Carlson (plus-12), Martin Fehervary (plus-11), and Alex Ovechkin (plus-10).
2. Nick Jensen has had a knack for drawing penalties. His plus-9 net penalties (18 drawn, nine taken) leads the team.
3. With seven shots on goal, Alex Ovechkin will have his 15th season with at least 300 shots on goal. He is already the all-time leader with 14 seasons, two more than Bobby Hull.
4. The Caps have employed 11 rookie skaters this season. The last time they dressed more was in 2003-2004, when they had 14 skaters appear in at least one game.
5. Washington has a minus-6 goal differential when shorthanded on home ice (six shorthanded goals for, 15 power play goals against), tied with Florida for fifth-best in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Minnesota: Kirill Kaprizov
Kirill Kaprizov had a fine rookie season last year, going 27-24-51, plus-10, in 55 games for the Wild. Those 27 goals led all rookies last year, ten more than Dallas’ Jason Robertson and Ottawa’s Josh Norris. His 24 assists were second to Robertson, and his 51 points led all rookies. His plus-10 rating was tied for third in his rookie class, while his eight power play goals led all rookies, his two overtime goals tied for the rookie lead, and his three game-winners were tied for fourth among all rookie skaters. This season, he has been better. His 38 goals are tied with Filip Forsberg for eighth among all skaters, his 45 assists are tied for 21st, and his 83 points are tied for sixth among all skaters going into Saturday’s game at Carolina. And, he is an efficient shooter, his 16.5 shooting percentage over the last two seasons ranking 23rd among 221 skaters with at least 200 shots on goal. Kaprizov has goals in 31 of the 65 games in which he played this season, the Wild going 20-7-4 in those games. Heavy ice time load have not translated into team success, which is not all that surprising since trailing teams might lean on goal scorers more in such games. The Wild are just 8-8-2 in the 18 games in which Kaprizov skated at least 20 minutes. There is a distinct home/road difference in his production this season. He is 23-26-49, plus-15, in 32 home games, but he is just 15-19-34, plus-5, in 33 road games. This would be his first career appearance against the Caps.
Washington: Martin Fehervary
It has been a long season for rookie defenseman Martin Fehervary. The 65 games he has played so far is the most he has in any season he has played to date in organized hockey at any level, surpassing the 56 games he played with the Hershey Bears in 2019-2020. Those 65 games are third-most among rookie defensemen this season. As much as the games played, though, it is the ice time. His 19:39 per game is fifth-highest among 36 rookie defensemen dressing for at least 15 games. Of that total, 1:50 per game is Fehervary’s average in shorthanded ice time, a more difficult task, perhaps, than even strength or power play ice time. And, paired with John Carlson on most nights as arguably the Capitals top pairing, it is a more responsible and stressful role than most rookies might be subjected to.
The load has had an effect on Fehervary, and not in the best way. Looking at shot-attempts for at 5-on-5, his numbers have been deteriorating. Through December, Fehervary had a 51.9 percent mark in this category, but in January it dropped slightly to 50.6 percent, then to 45.8 percent in February, and then to 42.6 percent in March. In March he posted his first monthly minus rating of the season (minus-1), and he was a minus-1 in even strength goal differential, one of three Caps defensemen to play in at least ten games in March to finish in minus territory. And, he has been loose with the puck. In 31 games in the 2021 portion of the schedule, he had 11 giveaways to six takeaways, a ratio consistent with those of Nick Jensen (18/10), Dmitry Orlov (20/12), or Justin Schultz (11/5). But in the new year, he has 20 giveaways and six takeaways, a ratio out of the ordinary among Caps defensemen. His physical game is still there, his 108 credited hits being almost twice as many as Dmitry Orlov (55), but he might be depending a bit too much on this aspect of his game recently. Fehervary did not have a point and had a plus-1 rating in his only appearance to date against Minnesota.
In the end…
Minnesota went to Carolina on Saturday having ended a home stand with an eight-game points streak (7-0-1). Regardless of the outcome against the Hurricanes, the Wild are playing well. But their road record does remain a bit iffy. They are too leaky on defense on the road to sustain any reasonable measure of success, although the Caps recent home record on offense (2.67 goals per game in 18 home games since January 1st, 26th in the league), leaves much to be desired. This might be a game of the resistible force meeting the moveable object.
Capitals 4 – Wild 3