The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals open the new week hosting the Vancouver Canucks at Capital One Arena. While this is not exactly a white-hot rivalry, it is a chance for Caps fans to welcome back once more former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who is in his first full season with the Canucks after taking over for Travis Green 26 games into last season.
Boudreau authored quite a turnaround last season for the Canucks, who started the year 8-15-2 under Green. Vancouver finished the last 57 games of the season with a 32-15-10 record under Boudreau and almost pulled off what Boudreau accomplished with the Caps when he took over early in the 2007-2008 season – coming from far behind to secure a playoff spot. The Canucks fell short, finishing five points behind second wild-card Nashville Predators, but the finish was grounds for optimism heading into the 2022-2023 season.
Fulfilling that optimism will have to wait. Vancouver will arrive in Washington having lost both of their games to open the new season, both losses coming on the road. Those two road games are part of a five-game road trip to start the season for the Canucks with visits to Columbus and Minnesota to follow their visit to Washington.
Vancouver has not suffered an anemic attack; they have 66 shots on goal and 118 total shot attempts in two games thus far. What they lack so far is a finishing touch, scoring three times against Edmonton in a 5-3 loss to the Oilers and twice in a 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. It is early, and it is only two games, but what has been missing is scoring from the “B’s,” Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat. Each of them is looking for their first goal of the season after combining for 54 goals last season.
Boeser is the consistent scorer of the two, his 23 goals last season being his second consecutive season with that total and his fourth season in five with at least 23 goals (he had 16 goals in 57 games in 2019-2020). Shot volumes are not really his thing, but efficiency is. He averaged about 2.8 shots per game in his six-year career through last season, a respectable but not a gaudy shot total. But he shot 13.2 percent over that same period, sixth of 38 skaters posting at least 100 total shots on goal over that period. Here, too, he has been consistent, only once averaging less than 10.0 percent for a season (9.5 percent in 2019-2020). Last season, after a slow start in which he scored four goals in 20 games over the first two months, he improved without losing consistency, posting between three and five goals per month over the last five months of the season. He has not been very successful against the Caps, at least in terms of goal scoring, going 1-6-7, even, in eight career games against Washington.
Horvat appears to have a bit more upside as a goal scorer, if last year’s 31-goal career high season is an indicator. Not that he lacks for consistency. The 31 goals marked the fifth time in six seasons he posted at least 20 goals, only falling short in 2020-2021 when he had 19 goals in 56 games. If anything, Horvat is an even more efficient shooter than Boeser, if only slightly more so. Over those six seasons in which he posted more than 20 goals five times, he averaged fewer shots per game than Boeser (2.5) but shot 13.5 percent over that span. What is more, he displayed improvement in his shooting efficiency over the last four seasons, starting with 11.9 percent in 2018-2019, improving to 12.4 percent the following season, 14.5 percent in 2020-2021, and then to 16.0 percent last season. His month-to-month profile last season looked a bit different than Boeser’s. Where Boeser displayed a consistency over the last five months, Horvat closed with a rush, posting 14 goals in 20 games over the last two months of the season and shooting 24.1 percent. He is 5-7-12, minus-3, in 12 career games against the Caps.
Over the previous three seasons, goaltender Thatcher Demko showed consistent progress in taking over the duties of number one goaltender. In 2019-2020, he was 13-10-2, 3.06, .905 in 27 games. The following season he was 16-18-1, 2.85, .915, with one shutout in 35 games. Last season he took a firm grip on the number one spot, going 33-22-7, 2.72, .915, with one shutout in 64 games. He will not turn 27 years old until December, and he has three seasons after this one on his current contract ($5.0 million per season cap hit), so it would appear the job is his for the foreseeable future. His record last season, as you would expect for the number one goalie, mirrored that of his team. In his first 17 appearances he was 6-10-1, 3.07, but over his last 48 games he was 27-13-6, 2.61, .918, with one shutout. He was tied for sixth in wins over that span, tenth in goals against average among 38 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes, and seventh in save percentage in that same group. Only once in that span did he lose three straight games in regulation. He is off to a sluggish start this season, stopping just 48 of 55 shots (.873 save percentage) in two losses. In two career games against the Caps, Demko is 1-0-1, 2.98, .910.
1. Two games, twice going out to multi-goal leads, two losses. Vancouver held a 3-0 lead over Edmonton through 24 minutes of the season opener before allowing five unanswered goals (three on power plays and one shorthanded) in a 5-3 loss. They had a 2-0 lead against Philadelphia through 30 minutes before allowing three unanswered goals (one on a power play and one shorthanded) in a 3-2 loss.
2. The two shorthanded goals allowed by the Canucks are tied for most in the league with San Jose. They allowed only six all of last season.
3. Only Seattle and Los Angeles have allowed more power play goals (five) than the Canucks (four).
4. Vancouver has outscored opponents, 4-0, in the first periods of games so far, but they have been outscored, 3-0, in the third periods of games.
5. The Canucks have allowed eight goals so far, five of them on special teams (five power play goals against, two shorthanded goals against).
1. Washington’s special teams index of 86.9 (power play plus penalty killing percentages) ranks 28th in the league.
2. The Caps have a 35.0 winning percentage on faceoffs in the defensive zone, 30th in the league.
3. The Capitals have not yet scored a third period goal.
4. Washington is averaging 35.67 hits per 60 minutes, second most in the league (Edmonton: 38.50).
5. Only Nashville has more missed shots (66) than the Capitals (47).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vancouver: Elias Pettersson
If Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are the consistent goal scorers, Elias Pettersson is the explosive scorer. In four seasons before this one, Pettersson recorded 97 goals and 221 points in 245 games. The Calder Trophy winner and first all-rookie team member in the 2018-2019 season has three seasons in four in which he scored at least 27 goals, falling short only in 2020-2021 when he lost 30 games to an upper body injury and finished with ten goals in 26 games (still a 32-goal pace over 82 games).
Petterson is still only 23 years old (he will turn 24 next month) but youth is a double-edged sword in this case. He has this year and next to run on his current contract that carries a $7.35 million cap hit. After next season, he will be an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent. It is almost inconceivable that Vancouver would not re-sign him, but it will be expensive, and in the 2024-2025 season, the Canucks could be carrying at least four players, including Pettersson, with cap hits in excess of $7.0 million (J.T. Miller ($8.0 million), Quinn Hughes ($7.85 million), and Oliver Ekman-Larsson ($7.26 million) would be in this group). Pettersson has one goal in two games so far this season and will bring a career scoring line against the Caps of 5-1-6, even, in five games into Monday’s contest.
Washington: Anthony Mantha
At TSN.ca, Anthony Mantha is described as “a natural goal scoring talent with great size and instincts for putting the biscuit in the basket. For a big winger, he skates very well, too. Displays great hand/eye coordination.” However, in seven seasons before this one, the “natural goal scoring talent” has not fulfilled its potential. Twice in that span he topped 20 goals with a high of 25 with the Detroit Red Wings in 2018-2019. In three seasons after that, he totaled 40 goals in 136 games, including nine in 37 games last season in which he lost 45 games to a shoulder injury that required surgery. At age 28, he should be in his chronological prime, but the clock is ticking.
The encouraging thing about his history is that he has been a reasonably fast starter. Over his career he has 40 goals in 97 games in October and November (0.41 goals per game). On the other hand, he has only 70 goals in 259 games (0.27 goals per game) over his career after November. He is off to a quick start with two goals in three games, but it remains to be seen if he can sustain a pace that would lift him out of the teens in goal scoring and to a level approaching the 25-30 goal range. With the Capitals missing the services of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to start the season, it is important for the Capitals’ playoff chances that Mantha realize more of his potential as a scorer. In eight career games against Vancouver, Mantha is 2-2-4, minus-1.
In the end…
The Caps ended their first week of the season on a positive note and have a chance to turn home-ice advantage into a bit of momentum with the Canucks coming to town. The Caps had difficulty turning home ice into an advantage last season, but this is a new year, and it is time for the Caps to be inhospitable hosts and grab some of that momentum.
Capitals 5 – Canucks 3