The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals woke up on Friday morning as one of four teams in the league to have lost their first two games of the season and will be looking to avoid a third straight loss when they return home on Saturday night to host the Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal will be playing their second road game in as many days, arriving in Washington after taking on the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit on Friday night. The Canadiens won their first game of the season, a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, twice coming back from a one-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead, only to see the Leafs tie the game with less than two minutes left in regulation. But the Habs won it when, after pinning Toronto in the defensive end, Josh Anderson found the back with 17.9 seconds left to secure the win.
Anderson is in his ninth NHL season, his third in Montreal after spending his first six seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has been a reasonably productive goal scorer in his six full seasons in the league coming into this season, posting 100 goals in 379 games over those six seasons, a 22-goal pace per 82 games. He has an odd career scoring profile, though. His home/road splits favor the road in terms of his production. In 195 road games over his career, he has 55 goals and 85 points with a 13.0 shooting percentage on an average of 2.17 shots per game, while in 194 home games he has 47 goals and 87 points with a 9.9 shooting percentage on an average of 2.45 shots per game. Last season he had only six goals in 36 home games, but he had 13 goals in 33 games on the road. Here might be the oddest feature of all in his scoring profile. He has 19 games against the Caps on his resume, more games against one team than all but two teams (Ottawa: 24; Toronto: 28). He has yet to record his first career goal against the Caps, drawing a blank on 48 shots in 19 games against Washington. He does have two assists in those 19 games and is a minus-10, his worst rating against any team in the league.
The Canadiens are in the midst of a rebuild, and that means giving chances to youngsters. Montreal started five rookies against Toronto in the season opener, four of them defensemen. Kaiden Guhle led the quartet of rookie defensemen – all defensemen, in fact – with 22:34 in ice time. He did not record a point against Toronto and finished with an even rating, but it would seem he is going to be a defenseman on whom the Canadiens will rely this season and in the future. Guhle was a first-round (16th overall) in the 2020 Entry Draft out of the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League, the third defenseman taken in that draft behind Jake Sanderson (fifth overall by Ottawa) and Jaime Drysdale (sixth overall by Anaheim). In the year following his draft by the Canadiens he played in only five games – two with the Raiders and three with the Laval Rocket of the AHL, his season limited by a hand injury. Last season he dressed for 42 regular season games, split between Prince Albert and the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, combining for a 7-33-40, plus-22 scoring line. In 19 playoff games with Edmonton he was 8-8-16. This will be his first career game against Washington.
Last season, Montreal dressed six goaltenders, none of them starting as many as half the team’s games. The number one duties were more or less split between Jake Allen (35 starts, 9-20-4, 3.30, .905, two shutouts) and Sam Montembeault (30 starts, 8-18-6, 3.77, .891, one shutout). Allen, who appears to have the number one job, got the Opening Night start at Bell Centre and stopped 29 of 32 shots in the 4-3 win over Toronto. This is Allen’s tenth year in the NHL (to us, it seems he’s been in the league longer), now in his third season in Montreal after spending his first seven seasons with the St. Louis Blues. It has been a bit of an odd journey for Allen, who was a clear number one goalie for a time with the Blues, appearing in 47, 61, 59, and 46 games over a four-year period ending in 2018-2019. Over that span he was 105-77-19, 2.58, .911, with 14 shutouts in 213 games (205 starts). In three seasons since, before this season, his workload was cut significantly, even accounting for the COVID-abbreviated seasons in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. Over those three seasons he dressed for 88 games (83 starts), going 32-38-12, 2.78, .911, with four shutouts in his last season in St. Louis and two with the Canadiens after he was traded by the Blues in September 2020 for a pair of seventh-round draft picks (2020 and 2022). Last season was brutal for Allen, who did not win consecutive decisions all season and won only four of his last 19 games. He struggled mightily on the road, going 4-9-1, 3.89, .898, with one shutout. Of 49 goalies logging at least 750 minutes in road games, Allen finished 48th in goals against average and 41st in save percentage. In six career games against Washington, Allen is 3-3-0, 2.97, .902, with one shutout. He allowed six goals in his only appearance against the Caps last season, a 6-3 loss on November 14th. It was one of two games last season in which he allowed six goals (Florida also lit him up for six goals).
1. Montreal earned 55 standings points in 82 games last season (22-49-11), a .335 points percentage. That is the third-worst points percentage in 104 seasons of their history before this year.
2. The 3.87 goals allowed per game last year by the Canadiens was the team’s worst in the modern era (since post-Original Six expansion).
3. Montreal’s winning percentage when trailing for in games last season (.115/6-38-8) was the worst for their franchise in the modern era.
4. The Canadiens won seven games last season when outshooting their opponents. Only two other Montreal teams since the post-Original Six expansion won fewer – the 1994-1995 and 2002-2003 teams with six each.
5. Since 1977-1978, only one Montreal team had a worse power play than the 13.7 percent they had last season – 2018-2019 with 13.3 percent.
1. The last time the Caps opened a season with consecutive losses in regulation was in 2012-2013, a season shortened by a lockout. Adam Oates was coach; they missed the playoffs. The last time they opened a full season with consecutive losses in regulation was in 1996-1997. Jim Schoenfeld was coach; they missed the playoffs.
2. Washington recorded 102 third period goals last season, their highest third period goal total since they recorded 112 in 2009-2010.
3. The Caps allowed nine goals in overtime last season, the most extra session goals allowed over a season in team history.
4. Washington did not record a goal by penalty shot last season. That makes eight straight seasons without one. The last penalty shot goal they scored was by Mikhail Grabovski in a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on December 8, 2013.
5. Only the New York Rangers took more Gimmick shots on goal on home ice (34) than did the Caps last season (23).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Montreal: Cole Caufield
Calling Cole Caufield a “natural scorer” might be damning with faint praise. In his mid-teens he scored 75 goals in 45 games over two seasons with Stevens Point Area High School in Wisconsin. As a 17-year old he scored 23 goals in 32 games with the US National Team Development Program junior squad. In two seasons with the US National U-18 team he scored 82 goals in 83 games. When he scored 29 goals in 28 games in his second season with the US National Team Development Program, he established himself as a player to watch in the 2019 draft. He was taken with the 15th overall pick by the Montreal Canadiens, although he might have gone higher if he had a bit more size (he is 5’9”/162 pounds). After he was drafted he joined the University of Wisconsin program and scored 49 goals I 67 games over two seasons. In the second of those seasons with the Badgers, in 2020-2021, he also dressed for two games with the Laval Rocket in the AHL and got his first taste of the NHL with ten games in Montreal where he scored four goals.
Last season, Caufield played in 67 games for the Canadiens, finishing the year ranked highly in a number of offensive categories among rookies – tied for second in goals (23, with Lucas Raymond, one behind Tanner Jeannot), tied for 14th in assists (20), sixth in points (43), tied for third in power play goals (five), fifth in power play points (13), tied for eighth in game-winning goals (three), sixth in goals per 60 minutes (1.03; minimum: 20 games), and tied for second in Gimmick goals (two). He did have an odd quirk in his home/road splits, though. He played 33 games at home and 34 on the road. He had 23 points at home, 20 on the road. He was minus-12 both at home and on the road. He had 91 shots on home ice and 97 on the road. Pretty even, as far as it goes. But, while he had 16 goals and seven assists at home, shooting 17.6 percent0, he had seven goals and 13 assists on the road, shooting 7.2 percent. He is off to a fast start this season, scoring a pair of goals in the Canadiens’ 4-3 win over Toronto in the opener. Caufield is 2-0-2, minus-1, in three career games against the Caps.
Washington: Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin does not have a point through two games. That might not sound especially worrisome. However, he has only opened a season once without a point in his first two games (2016-2017 in a Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh and a win over the New York Islanders). He has never opened a season without a point in his first three games.
It matters. He has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Caps since he arrived in Washington and scored two goals in his first NHL game, a 3-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. When scoring at least one goal in a game over his career, the Caps are 406-128-56, a 56-18-8 pace (120 points) per 82 games. The Caps’ record when he recorded at least one point is almost as good – 556-204-95, a 53-20-9 pace (115 points) per 82 games.
Last season, Ovechkin had at least one goal in 40 games, and the Caps were 30-4-6 in those games, a 62-8-12 pace (136 points) over 82 games. He had points in 57 games, and the Caps were 38-11-8 in those games, a 55-16-12 pace (122 points) per 82 games. It is unsurprising, given his standing in the league’s career goal scoring rankings, that his team’s record is better, on a rate basis, when he scores goals than when he posts points, but the larger point here is that Ovechkin has not been a stat-padder. His contributions are essential, and it is why getting him off and running in this game is important for the Caps to getting on a more successful run early in the season. That they do so will be perhaps the most important factor in whether they reach the postseason or not. A team cannot win a Stanley Cup in October, but they can lose one by falling too far off the pace.
If Ovechkin is to stop his scoreless streak before it gets too long, Montreal might be a good opponent to face. He is 34-25-59, plus-9, in 52 career games against the Canadiens.
In the end…
Montreal is perhaps not the pushover they were a year ago. Martin St. Louis had them playing fairly well after he took over the head coaching duties in-season. The Caps will – or at least should – have the advantage of not playing the night before, as Montreal has to do with their game in Detroit on Friday night. But this is the third game in four nights for the Caps. This might not be a blowout, but the Caps should not be in serious danger of losing this contest, either.
Capitals 4 – Canadiens 2