The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals come off one of their best wins of the season when they visit the scene of their greatest achievement on Wednesday night. The Caps will take the ice at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where they won their first Stanley Cup in 2018, to face the Vegas Golden Knights, a team with its faces pressed to the window, looking in on the playoffs from outside as the regular season enters its final phase.
With five games remaining on their schedule, Vegas is three points behind the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the Pacific Division and four points behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card spot going into Tuesday’s games. That the Golden Knights would be in a position to miss the postseason for the first time in their five-year history is a product of mediocre play over the last four months. On December 19th, Vegas won a fifth consecutive game to go 20-11-0. Since then, however, they are 21-20-5, tied for 20th in the league in points over that span (47, with Columbus) and 20th in points percentage (.511).
Over those 46 games, only Jonathan Marchessault can be said to have stood out in terms of offensive production. Playing in 45 of those 46 games, he is 15-28-43, plus-9. That he would overachieve relative to his teammates over this span of games is just one more example of his being that overachiever. Undrafted an amateur, his first pro contract was signed as a free agent in June 2011 with the AHL Connecticut Whale. And all he did in his first season as a pro was tie for the lead in points for the Whale. In July 2012 he signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He played two games for Columbus, then was part of a four-player deal, two on each side (the other three players are no longer in the NHL), in March 2014, in which he ended up with Tampa Bay. Two seasons and 47 games with the Lightning, and it was on to the Florida Panthers as a free agent. After one season with the Panthers, and despite posting 30 goals in 75 games, he was left unprotected in the expansion draft, and he was snapped up by the Golden Knights.
After 124 games over four seasons with three teams, Marchessault found a home. In his fifth season with Vegas, he is the all-time franchise leader in games played (351), goals (121), assist (168), points (289), power play goals (24), power play points (69), game winning goals (22), on-ice goal differential at even strength (plus-79), and is tied for the lead in overtime goals (six, with Max Pacioretty). With one more goal this season he will tie his personal best in goals and post his second career 30-goal season. He already has a personal best in power play points (20). Marchessault has been less efficient as a shooter on home ice (12 goals on 138 shots/8.7 percent) than he has on the road (17 goals on 100 shots/17.0 percent), but he has almost twice as many assists on home ice (23) than on the road (12). He is 0-7-7, minus-2, in 13 career games against Washington.
When Jack Eichel was traded from the Buffalo Sabres with a third-round draft pick for a 2022 first-round draft pick (top-10 protected), a second-round draft pick, Peyton Krebs, and Alex Tuch, they took on a $10 million cap hit for the remainder of this season and for the next four years. It is the longer term in which Vegas might have been focusing, which is not to say Eichel, who missed large chunks of last year and this to a herniated disc injury, has been unproductive. He is 12-9-21, plus-7, in 29 games since arriving in Las Vegas. What he has been, though, is ineffective in terms of his production influencing results. Vegas is just 13-14-2 in the 29 games he has played to date for his new team. They are 7-4-0 in those games in which he scored a goal and 10-6-2 in the 18 games in which he posted points. Vegas is 3-8-0 when Eichel was held off the scoresheet, indicating some level of influence by his production but not enough to boost the Golden Knights’ record to a significant degree. Eichel’s recent production does align better with wins and losses, though. He recently has a nine-game run over which he was 7-3-10, plus-7, and the Knights were 7-1-1 in those games.
The relationship of his ice time and results has an odd quality to it, especially at the low end of the ice time scale. In 12 games in which he posted at least 20 minutes in ice time, he had points in eight of them (6-3-9), but the Knights were just 5-6-1 in those 12 games and 3-4-1 in the eight games in which he had points. At the other end, he skated less that 17:30 in six games so far with points in each of them (3-3-6), and Vegas is 5-0-1 in those contests. Eichel is 3-10-13, minus-5, in 16 career games against the Caps.
Vegas has had goaltending issues over the last four months. Three goalies have been used – Robin Lehner, Laurent Brossoit, and Logan Thompson – each of them getting more than a dozen starts. This despite Lehner being the nominal number one goalie, although he lost 15 games over two separate stretches due to upper and lower body injuries, and another game for personal reasons. Of 61 goalies with at least 500 minutes played since December 20th, when Vegas’ slide into mediocrity began, Lehner ranks 13th in goals against average (2.57) but only 24th in save percentage (.909). It is not as if he has been consistently sub-par. Five time in 19 games he allowed more than three goals in a game, but 11 times in that span he allowed two or fewer. He has been the beneficiary of low shot volumes, five times facing fewer than 25 shots and averaging only 28.2 shots faced per 60 minutes.
Breaking down his games into three categories of shot volumes – 30+ shots, 25-29 shots, and fewer than 25 shots – Lehner’s sweet spot over his 19 games in this stretch seems to be in the 25-29 shots range in which his save percentage is .917 (five games). When facing 30 or more shots it is .909 (nine games), and when facing fewer than 25 shots it is .892 (five games). Odd Lehner fact… Vegas has had only nine goalies dress for them in their five-year history, but Lehner is the only one never to have made an appearance in relief of a starting goalie. All of his 65 appearances to date with the Golden Knights have been starts. Lehner is 3-3-1, 1.86, .939, with two shutouts in seven career appearances against the Caps.
Has Vegas been mediocre over the last four months? In the 21-20-5 stretch since then, they are scoring 2.91 goals per game and allowing 2.91 goals per game.
2. Vegas has struggled on special teams in their 46 games since December 20th. Their power play (15.9 percent) ranks 27th, their penalty kill (77.5 percent) ranks 21st, and their special teams index (93.4; power play plus penalty kill percentages) ranks 25th.
3. Over this 46-game stretch, Vegas depends on blowing teams out, to a point. They are 11-9 in games decided by three or more goals (.550 winning percentage), but they are just 7-6-5 in one-goal games (.389) and 3-5 in two-goal games (.375).
4. Vegas has managed to score first in 25 of these 46 games, tied for ninth-most over this period. But they are just 17-6-2 in those games, their .680 winning percentage tied for 18th.
5. The Golden Knights have taken only 3.06 penalties per 60 minutes over their 46-game run, fourth lowest penalty rate in the league in that span.Washington is 15-5-1 since March 1st, their .738 points percentage ranking third in the league, behind Florida (19-2-1/.886) and Colorado (16-5-2/.739).
2. Over that 21-game span since March 1st, the Caps are averaging 4.00 goals per game, the fourth-best scoring offense in that period.
3. The Caps’ power play since March 1st (29.4 percent) ranks fourth in the league over that period; their penalty kill (86.9 percent) ranks third; and their special teams index (116.3) ranks second, trailing only Colorado (117.2).
4. Over those 21 games, the Caps have 35 third period goals scored, most in the league.
5. The Caps have ten one-goal decisions over those 21 games, and their 8-1-1 record is second best in the league over that span by winning percentage (.800). Only Florida has been better (8-0-1/.889).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vegas: Chandler Stephenson
What a difference setting makes. In Chandler Stephenson’s five seasons with the Capitals, the team that drafted him in 2012 (third-round/77th overall), posted 14 goals and 33 points in 168 games in primarily a bottom-six forward role. He logged only 95 shots on goal in those 168 games (0.57 shots per game). And then he was traded to Vegas for a fifth-round draft pick (that pick was sent to Philadelphia for Michael Raffl in a subsequent trade). In 166 games with the Golden Knights, often in a top-six role, he has 40 goals and 115 points, and he has 250 shots on goal (1.51 per game), almost three times the shots per game rate he had as a Capital. He is also averaging more than six minutes more in ice time per game (18:03 with Vegas compared to 11:40 per game with the Caps).
Stephenson is having a career year this season with 18 goals in 74 games (he had 14 in 51 games last season), 40 assists (21 last year), 58 points (35 last season), three power play goals (two last season), eight power play assists (three last year), 11 power play points (five last year), and 19:16 in average ice time (18:06 last season). Vegas has done well when Stephenson has done well, going 12-6-0 when Stephenson scored a goal and 26-12-1 in the 39 games in which he recorded a point. Ice time is an issue, though. In the 16 games in which he skated at least 20:30, Vegas is 6-8-2. At the other end, in 13 games when skating less than 17:30, the Golden Knights are 8-3-2. Stephenson is without a point and has an even rating in two career games against Washington.
Washington: Nic Dowd
If the Capitals have the bet fourth line in the league, Nic Dowd has been an important element of it. In 58 games this season he has ten goals, one short of his career best (11, set last season); 13 assists, three off his career high (16 in 2016-2017 with Los Angeles); 23 points (a new career high); plus-12 rating (also a new career high); 14:24 and in ice time per game (another new career high). In what might not be unusual for a fourth liner from whom not a lot of offense is expected, when he does contribute, the Caps do well. In ten games in which he has a goal, the Caps are 6-2-2, while the Caps are 11-4-2 in the 17 games in which he has a point. And, n the 36 games in which he logged at least 14 minutes in ice time, Washington is 23-8-5.
Some odd Dowd facts… There have been seven games this season in which Dowd was not credited with a hit; the Caps are 5-2-0 in those games. In 16 games in which Dowd has two or more blocked shots, the Caps are 11-2-3 (12-12-4 in 28 games in which he did not have a blocked shot). The Caps are 5-7-2 in the 14 games in which he won less than 40 percent of his faceoffs; 6-3-1 when he won 70 percent or more of his draws. Washington is 11-4-4 in the 19 games in which he won ten or more faceoffs, 3-5-2 when he won fewer than five faceoffs. After going seven games without a point, Dowd is 2-4-6, plus-3, over his last six games. He is without a point in eight career games against Vegas and has a minus-1 rating.
In the end…
The Caps do love the road. They are 13-3-1 in their last 17 road games and outscored opponents by a 70-50 margin. They will be taking on a team in desperate straits with regard to their playoff chances, but Vegas also has only one win in regulation in their last five home games (2-3-0, one of the wins coming in overtime). Discipline versus desperation. We will take the former.
Capitals 4 – Golden Knights 3