The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
If it’s Thursday, it must be Canada. For the second Thursday this season, the Washington Capitals will take to the road and head north of the border. Last Thursday it was Toronto, where the Caps lost to the Maple Leafs, 3-2. This Thursday it is Ottawa to face the Senators in a battle of teams representing their nations’ capitals.
“There oughtta be a trophy for this sort of thing. Like they do for college football rivalries.”
You have something in mind, Cheerless?
“Well, let’s see… the ‘Presidents Trophy’ is taken…can’t do the ‘Bucket of Warm Spit Trophy,’ what with there being an ‘Old Brass Spitoon Trophy’… maybe the “Big Steaming Pile of Crap Trophy’..it’s a politics thing.”
Keep working on that, Cheerless. As for this contest, the Caps will head into it on a modest two-game winning streak after dropping their first two games of the season. The Senators will host the Caps with a 1-2-0 record after hosting the Boston Bruins in their home opener, a 7-5 win/loss for the Sens.
It has been only three games, but the Senators have balanced scoring with 15 skaters recording points so far. Three players have two goals apiece, and they might be described as the “unsurprising,” the “unflappable,” and the “unlikely.” First, the unlikely. Coming into this season, Shane Pinto had one career goal in 17 games over two seasons. He has two in three games, scoring goals in each of his last two games after coming up empty in the season opener. Pinto, a 21-year old center born in Franklin Square, New York, was taken by the Senators in the second round (32nd overall) in the 2019 Entry Draft. After being drafted by the Senators, he joined the University of North Dakota hockey program where he posted 31 goals and 60 points in 61 games over two seasons. In the 2020-2021 season, his second with North Dakota, he had his first NHL action, going 1-6-7, plus-6, in 12 games with Ottawa. Pinto is an interesting fellow. When asked by The Sporting News after the 2019 draft to describe his attributes as a player, he provided a thoughtful, almost clinically succinct scouting report…”I’m a big two-way center. I’m good in my defensive zone. I like to win face-offs. I do all the little things well, and I can score. I kind of relate my game to Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets. That’s my best comparison.” Thursday will be his first contest against the Caps.
The “unsurprising” player with two goals would be Brady Tkachuk, this youngest of the trio of the Family Tkachuk (father Keith and his sons, Matthew and Brady) to play in the NHL. If the apple does not fall far from the tree, this apple is resting against the tree trunk. Keith Tkachuk was a first round draft pick, taken 19th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1990 Entry Draft. Brady was taken fourth overall in the 2018 Entry Draft by Ottawa. Keith played for one season with the Boston University Terriers before joining the Jets. Brady played one season for Boston University before joining the Senators. Keith was the epitome of a power forward – 6’2”, 235 pounds and ornery. His son Brady is 6’4”/212 pounds and is ornery. Keith in one of 56 players to compile at least 2,000 penalty minutes in his career (2,219/41st all time). Brady leads his 2018 draft class in penalty minutes by a wide margin (367 to the 239 of Andrei Svechnikov). Keith had 94 goals and 191 points in 232 games over his first four NHL seasons. Brady had 90 goals and 192 points in 277 games over his first four seasons. Keith had three 20-plus goal seasons in his first four in the NHL; so has Brady. Keith finished his career with 538 goals and 1,065 points in 1,201 games. We will see if Brady can match or surpass those numbers, hoping he will not get closer to doing so when he faces the Caps. He is 1-4-5, minus-1, in eight career games against Washington.
With Matt Murray and the 20 starts he had for Ottawa last season in Toronto, with Filip Gustavsson and his 18 starts last season in Minnesota, and with Cam Talbot (who came to Ottawa in exchange for Gustavsson) expected to miss 5-7 weeks with an upper body injury, the goaltending duties fall squarely on the shoulders of Anton Forsberg, who had 44 starts for the Senators last season, going 22-17-4, 2.92, .917, with one shutout. It was a fine record, given that Murray and Gustavsson posted a combined record of 10-24-3, 3.28, .900, with one shutout. This really is Forsberg’s time. In his first six NHL seasons he started only 50 games, 30 of those in 2017-2018 with Chicago (10-16-4, 2.97, .908). Over those six seasons with four teams (Columbus, Chicago, Carolina, and his first season in Ottawa), he was 15-29-5, 3.22, .902. And then last season he almost doubled his career starts (44) in addition to posting career bests in wins (22), goals against average (2.82), save percentage (.917), while recording his first and only NHL shutout to date, a 25-save gem in a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay on December 11, 2021. Forsberg might have wished for a better start, though. He started all three games for the Senators to date, going 1-2-0, 3.38, .900. Oddly enough, he allowed as many goals against Boston on Tuesday (five) in the 7-5 win as he did in his first two games combined, both of them losses. In five career games against the Caps, Forsberg is 3-1-0, 3.48, .895.It’s early, but if the three games to date are any indication Ottawa might be a fun, exhilarating, and heart-stopping (if you are a Senators fan) team to watch. Games involving the Senators have averaged a combined 7.33 goals per game to date, eighth-most in the league.
2. Last season Ottawa allowed four or more goals 33 times in 82 games. It was a lot but not extraordinarily so (tied with Toronto for 11th most in the league). They have done so twice in three games so far (1-1-0).
3. Last season’s .445 standings points percentage (33-42-7) ranked 20th in 29 seasons for the Senators. They have not been over .500 since the 2016-2017 season (.598/44-28-10), not surprisingly the last time they reached the playoffs. They advanced to the conference final before losing in double overtime in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
4. Since they last reached the postseason in 2017, the Senators have the third-worst record in the league by standings point percentage. Their .424 standing points percentage (139-196-41) is better than those of the Detroit Red Wings (.416/132-195-49) and the Seattle Kraken (.366/28-51-7).
5. In that span since the Senators were in the playoffs, only one player had a season with more than 30 goals. Josh Norris had 35 goals for Ottawa last season (Brady Tkachuk had 30 goals last year, the only other Senator to reach the 30 goal mark since that 2017 playoff appearance).It is no surprise that Alex Ovechkin is the leading goal scorer and point producer all-time against Ottawa (35-21-56 in 51 career games). But with Nicklas Backstrom (12-28-40) out, the next in line among active Caps in goals is T.J. Oshie (11), while John Carlson would be second to Ovechkin with 19 points (7-12-19).
2. Ovechkin will be the only active Capital in this game to have scored a shorthanded goal against Ottawa. That one came in his rookie season, the only goal the Caps scored in a 7-1 loss to the Senators on March 2, 2006.
3. There have been 102 skaters who failed to record a point against Ottawa in team history, but only one drew a blank in more than ten games against the Senators – Brendan Witt (no points in 29 games against the Senators).
4. Washington has scored four or more goals in five of their last eight games in Ottawa.
5. If the Caps win by six or more goals they will have scored as many or more goals in franchise history as they allowed (currently 11,731 for and 11,737 allowed).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Ottawa: Claude Giroux
And here is the “unflappable” player among the trio we spoke of above. Giroux spent almost 15 seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, certain to be considered over time as one of the greatest players to wear the orange and black. But with the Flyers in rebuild mode, moving Giroux for futures became a necessity, not to mention a token of appreciation for a player who performed so well for the franchise. The Flyers traded Giroux to the Florida Panthers – a serious Stanley Cup contender at the time – last March with a fifth round pick in the 2024 Entry Draft, Connor Bunnaman, and German Rubtsov for a first round draft pick in 2024, a third round draft pick in 2023, and Owen Tippett. Giroux played 18 games to close the regular season with Florida, going 3-20-23, plus-7, and he followed that up with three goals and eight points in ten playoff games with a plus-2 rating.
Over a span of 20 regular season games over two seasons, Giroux played for three different teams, going from a proud franchise facing what could be a long rebuilding phase, to a Stanley Cup contender, to a team that has been “rebuilding” for years and only now seems to have a glimmer of potential of returning to competitiveness. Giroux, a native of Hearst, Ontario, has two goals and an assist in three games thus far for his new Ontario-based club. With more than 1,000 regular season games played (1,021) and almost 100 postseason games (95) on his resume, he has the experience to pass along to his younger teammates. He is still only 35 years of age, which makes it possible that the three years on his contract with the Senators ($6.5 million annual cap hit according to capfriendly.com) will be productive ones. Giroux is 24-27-51, plus-7, in 56 career games against the Capitals.
Washington: Nic Dowd
Nine games, 0-0-0, minus-2. That is the career scoring line for Nic Dowd against the Ottawa Senators. The Sens are one of three teams against which Dowd has not registered a point, Vegas (in nine games) and the Caps (in four games) being the others. If he is to break through, it might be on Thursday night. He is off to his best four-game scoring start as a Capital (1-1-2). The odd part is that he had single points in each of his previous four seasons with the Caps. And although the fourth line is not often called upon to be an offensive contributor, now would be a good time to get something out of Dowd and the fourth line with Nicklas Backstrom on the bench while his continues his rehabilitation from hip surgery, Carl Hagelin on long-term injured reserve, Evgeny Kuznetsov siting for this game, suspended for one contest for his two-handed whack to the chops of Vancouver’ Kyle Burroughs, and Connor Brown going on the injured list for a lower-body injury that is expected to be “long-term” in nature.
It isn’t that Dowd is incapable of making those contributions. Since he joined the Caps in 2018-2019, he is one of three players to appear in at least 200 games, post 30 goals or more and 75 points or more, record a rating of plus-30 or better, and do so averaging less than 13 minutes per game (37-41-78, +34, 12:26 per game in ice time). Of note, teammate Garnet Hathaway is one of the other two to do so. Dowd came out of the gate with crooked numbers on his score sheet, recording an assist in the season/home opener against Boston and a goal in the season’s first road game in Toronto, both of them losses. He has been held off the score sheet in two games since despite a season high three shots against Montreal in Game 3. Coming out of the mini-slump will be important with the Caps missing important forwards. As noted, Dowd is without a point in nine career games against Ottawa.
In the end…
When it rains, it pours, but the Caps are dealing with a tsunami of injuries at the forward position. Missing Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson was a known coming into the season. Carl hagelin’s status was in flux, but then he went on the long-term injured reserve list after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery. Now, Connor Brown is out for the foreseeable future. That make it important for the veterans on the squad to step up their game. That is not to say trying to do things outside their skill set or comfort zone, but they need to be better at what they do best. And as the center of what might be the best fourth line in hockey, it means Nic Dowd needs to play hard, play responsibly, minimize errors, win faceoffs, and chip in the occasional offense. It will be a long road ahead.
Capitals 4 – Senators 3