Monday, April 11, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 73: Flyers at Capitals, April 12th

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals close out their brief two-game home stand on Tuesday night when the Philadelphia Flyers come to town.  The Caps will be looking to even the season series at two games apiece following a pair of 2-1 losses (November 6th in Washington and February 26th in Philadelphia) sandwiched around a 5-3 win in mid-February in Philly.

Once upon a time this season, the Flyers looked like contenders for a playoff spot, going 8-4-2 in their first 14 games, the seventh best record, by points percentage, in the Eastern Conference at the time.  And then the bottom dropped out of their season.  That 8-4-2 start was followed by a ten-game losing streak (0-8-2).  The streak set the Flyers on a course that would leave them tied for the worst record in the league over their last 58 games, by points (39, with New Jersey) and in points percentage (.336, with New Jersey as well).  With their 15-34-9 record over that span, no team has won fewer games, and only the Devils have more losses in regulation (37 to 34).

Unsurprisingly, scoring has been an issue, the Flyers having the fourth-worst scoring offense over that period (2.57 goals per game).  Four active Flyers have managed to post double-digit goal totals over that span (not including the departed Claude Giroux).  James van Riemsdyk and Cam Atkinson lead that group with 16 goals apiece.

It is said, “you can’t go home again.”  There is a lot of truth in that statement, but for James van Riemsdyk, the second time around in Philadelphia has not been all bad.  Van Riemsdyk started his career with the Flyers after being taken second overall in the 2007 Entry Draft.  He spent three seasons skating for the Flyers, posting a scoring line of 47-52-99, plus-13, in 196 games.  He added 11 goals and 15 points in 39 playoff games over that period.  After those three seasons he headed off to Toronto, traded in June 2012 to the Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn.  He spent six seasons in Toronto, recording 154 goals and 294 points in 413 regular season games, and seven goals and 14 points in 20 postseason games before returning to Philadelphia as a free agent in July 2018.  Now in his fourth season in his second tour as a Flyer, van Riemsdyk is not quite as productive as he was in his first tour, but his 81 goals in 261 games are most by a Flyer over those four seasons to date, and his 162 points rank fifth among Flyers over the last four years.

This has been an up-and-down season for van Riemsdyk, who ranks second on the team in goals overall (18) but whose minus-31 rating is tied for fourth-worst among 981 skaters in the league to dress this season.  And, the Flyers have not been particularly effective on offense at even strength with van Riemsdyk on the ice.  He has been on ice for only 36 goals for at evens, tied for tenth on the team, while opponents have scored 60 goals at evens when he is on the ice, fifth most among all Flyer skaters and second most among forwards.  What he has been is more effective on the road this season where he is 11-8-19, minus-9, in 35 road games compared to 7-5-12, minus-22, in 37 home games.  Van Riemsdyk is 12-16-28, minus-5, in 45 career games against Washington.

Cam Atkinson seems to have fit in nicely, or as nicely as possible for a struggling team, in his first season in Philadelphia after spending the first ten years of his career in Columbus with the Blue Jackets.  He was traded to the Flyers for Jakub Voracek in July 2021 in one of those trades that looked like “these guys could use a change of scenery” deals.  In 72 games with the Flyers to date he has a team-leading 23 goals, his seventh 20-goal season.  He also has 50 points, making it four seasons in his career that he hit that threshold.  He also has six of the team’s 22 game-winning goals scored this season and one of four overtime goals scored by the Flyers.  Unfortunately for the Flyers, his goal production seems not to have mattered a great deal.  The team is just 7-8-2 in the 17 games in which he has goals this season, although the Flyers are perfect in the five multi-goal games he has (5-0-0).  They are just 13-18-5 in the 36 games in which he has points.

Atkinson’s home/road splits are more conventional than van Riemsdyks’ his performance on home ice outpacing that on the road.  In 35 road games this season he is 6-15-21, minus-8, while he is 17-12-29, plus-7, in 37 home games.  He has been in a bit of a slump on the road of late, posting only two goals in his last 15 road contests, although he does have eight assists in that stretch.  Atkinson milestone watch… when he takes the ice for the Flyers he will be playing in his 700th career NHL game.  He is 13-9-22, plus-5, in 30 career games against the Caps.

The Flyers’ defense has been a hot mess all season.  One could argue this has been a problem for a few years now.  Of 11 defensemen to dress for the team, six have posted double-digit point totals, but seven have plus-minus ratings in minus territory, and three have a rating of minus-10 or worse (Keith Yandle is a league worst minus-41).  Travis Sanheim might be the only bright light of the season among the defensemen.  He is second on the team among defensemen in goals (seven), first in assists (22), first in points (29), one of two defensemen to record a game-winning goal (both he and Ivan Provorov have overtime winners for the Flyers), third in blocked shots (116), first in takeaways (19), and second in minutes played (1,585). 

Sanheim is in only his fifth season with the Flyers, but he is slowly making his way up the all-time team rankings.  With 325 games played, he is closing in on the top-20 among defensemen in games played, Behn Wilson sitting at 20th place (339 games).  His 29 career goals are tied for 20th all-time among Flyer defensemen with Chris Therrien and Terry Carkner.  With 114 points, he seems likely to jump into the top-25 in career points with Philadelphia, Joni Pitkanen currently in that spot with 116 points.  He sits in 11th place in total minutes played among defensemen for the club (6,546 minutes), about 350 minutes behind Kim Johnsson for tenth place.  He could set career highs in goals this season (seven currently; he had nine in 2018-2019) and points (29 currently; he had 35 in 2018-2019).  His recent production has been good, going 2-4-6, plus-2, in his last eight games.  He has not been much of a goal scorer on the road, though, posting only one in 35 road games.  Sanheim is 1-3-4, minus-11, in 19 career games against the Capitals.

1.  The Flyers have the worst scoring offense in road games this season (2.34 goal per game).

2.  Philadelphia is 12.6 percent efficiency in power plays on the road, third-worst in the league; their penalty kill on the road (73.6 percent) is also third-worst in the league.

3.  The Flyers are giving up 34.8 shots per game in road contests, the third-highest average in the league.

4.  Philadelphia has only 24 goals in third periods of road games this season, second-fewest in the league (Buffalo has 23).

5.  The Flyers have trailed first 22 times in 35 road games; their 18 losses when trailing first are most in the league.

1.  The Caps have 19 skaters with double-digit point totals so far this season, topping last year’s total of 18 skaters.

2.  If Connor McMichael can post one more goal, or either of T.J. Oshie or Nic Dowd getting two, the Caps would have nine skaters with double digit goal totals, equaling last year’s total.

3.  Last season, John Carlson was the only Capital to average more than 20 minute in ice time per game (23:47).  This season, the Caps have four skaters averaging more than 20 minutes – Carlson (23:52), Dmitry Orlov (20:55), Alex Ovechkin (20:54), and Evgeny Kuznetsov (20:34).

4.  Last season, the Caps had six players appearing in at least 40 games with shooting percentages over 15 percent.  This season, only Tom Wilson has appeared in at least 40 games with a shooting percentage over 15 percent (17.7).

5.  Dmitry Orlov is the only Capital with an overtime goal in each of the last two seasons.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Philadelphia: Oskar Lindblom

In his five years in the NHL, forward Oskar Lindblom might be best known as a survivor, having endured a bout with cancer – Ewing’s Sarcoma – that was supposed to end his 2019-2020 season when he was diagnosed in December 2019.  He underwent chemotherapy, rehabilitated himself, and returned to the lineup for the post season.  He demonstrated himself to be a battler.  What is left for him is to establish himself as an important element to the Flyers’ success going forward.  He has been on the edge of being a core player, but has not yet quite made the leap to that status.  He has a promising first full season in 2018-2019, when he went 17-16-33 in 81 games.  Even in his abbreviated 2019-2020 season he was 11-7-18 in 30 games.  Last season he slipped a bit, going 8-6-14 in 50 games.  This season, he has bounced back somewhat, going 11-13-24 in 70 games.  Those 70 games are of note, not just for his having come back from cancer to do so, but being one of only four Flyers (among 36 skaters to play) with at least 70 games played.

Lindblom has been in a scoring slump, though, going just 1-2-3, minus-5, in his last 15 games overall.  Of importance to this game, he has only one goal in 34 road games this season, a reflection of a very different player on the road (1-5-6, minus-9, 1.9 shooting percentage, in 34 road games) than he has been at home (10-8-18, plus-3, 16.9 shooting percentage, in 36 home games).  Odd Lindblom fact… he has points in five road games this season, but the Flyers are just 1-2-2 in those contests.  Odd Lindblom Fact II… in seven games in which he posted four or more shots on goal, the Flyers are 4-2-1, but in ten games in which he recorded three shots on goal, they are 1-5-4.  Lindblom is 1-4-5, minus-8, in 17 career games against Washington.

Washington: T.J. Oshie

If there is a player who seems a perfect match to face a team with the Flyers’ reputation for toughness, it would be T.J. Oshie, a player of an unflinching sort who goes fearlessly to the hard areas – along the boards, in front of the net – to make plays.  The Flyers are not the rough and tumble team of years past (17th in in the league with 624 penalty minutes and 16th in penalties taken with 258, and they average only 21.97 hits per 60 minutes, 20th in the league), but that would seem to be of little consequence on Oshie’s style of play.  He has points in 12 of the 28 games he has played against Philadelphia as a Capital, goals in seven of them.  He was credited with at least one hit in 24 of those games and had at least one blocked shot in 16 of them. 

The odd point about his scoring against the Flyers has been the disconnect between that success and the team’s.  The Caps are just 6-4-2 in the 12 games in which he posted at least one point, 11-3-2 in the 16 games in which he was blanked on the score sheet.  However, the Caps are 14-6-4 in games in which he recorded at least one hit, 3-1-0 in the games in which he was not credited with at least one.  This game could be an opportunity for Oshie to get out of a bit of a slump.  He is without a goal in his last nine games overall (0-3-3) and has only one goal in his last 18 games at Capital One Arena.  Oshie is 10-10-20, even, in 36 career games against the Flyers.

In the end…

For the Flyers, the question is whether they are the team that has won consecutive road games or the team that lost 16 of their previous 17 games on the road (1-14-2).  For the Capitals, it is a matter of not suffering a letdown against a lesser team after a fine effort in back-to-back wins against elite teams last weekend.  Washington still has a chance to jump up a rung on the Metropolitan Division standings, but a loss to the Flyers would make that job a lot harder as the schedule gets harder at season’s end.

Capitals 5 – Flyers 2

*  Programming note...we will be out for the rest of the week.  But there are a lot of places you can keep up with Caps news and updates.  Take a look, and go Caps.