Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 7: Capitals at Devils, October 24

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

We have an abbreviated preview of Monday’ night’s contest in New Jersey against the Devils, which should not diminish the importance of the Washington Capitals’ first game against a Metropolitan Division rival this season.

For the Devils…

1.  It has been even-steven for the Devils in goals scored and allowed so far with New Jersey scoring 14 goals and allowing 14 goals through five games.

2.  New Jersey’s special teams have been very uneven in the early going.  Their power play (13.3 percent) ranks 23rd in the league, while their 93.3 percent penalty kill ranks fifth.

3.  The Devils have allowed an amazingly low 21.2 shots per game so far.  How amazing is that?  If it was over a full season, it would be the lowest shots allowed per game since the league began recording team shots in 1959-1960.

4.  Maybe the Caps, a notoriously poor faceoff team, will win a faceoff against the Devils, but it might not be many.  New Jersey is fourth in the league on faceoff winning percentage (55.5 percent).

5.  The Devils have struggled to score early in games.  They have two first period goals in five games.  Only Chicago (one in four games) and Arizona (one in five games) have fewer.

6.  Jesper Bratt is one of two players in the league with eight assists but no goals (Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is the other).

7.  The Devils are just two power play goals in five games to date.  Forwards Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer are the goal scorers.  For Holtz it is his first NHL power play goal.

8.  Former Capital Jonas Siegenthaler has become a mainstay on the Devils’ blue line.  His 20:42 in ice time per game is second among defensemen and is a career high to date.

9.  New Jersey has dressed two rookie skaters to date – Holtz, who has appeared in three games (1-0-1, minus-2) and forward Fabian Zetterlund (one game, 0-1-1, plus-1).

10.  Ondrej Palat, in his first seasons with New Jersey after spending his first ten seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, leads the team in goals with three.

For the Caps...

1. Nine Capitals have shared in the 19 goals scored to date, Conor Sheary and Anthony Mantha leading the team with three apiece.

2.  Fifteen Caps have points among the 20 skaters to dress so far.  Five Caps are tied with five points apiece: Evgeny Kuznetsov (0-5-5), Marcus Johansson, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin, the last four each with 2-3-5 scoring lines.

3.  John Carlson has skated at least 22 minutes in each of the Caps’ six games so far.  Not that it matters a lot.  The Caps won in his high ice time game of the year (the 4-3 win over Los Angeles when he skated 26:05) and they won in his two lowest ice time games of the year (23:04 in a win over Montreal and 22:04 in a win over Vancouver).

4.  Six games into the season, and the Caps have not yet dressed a rookie.

5.  Nine Capitals have at least ten shots on goal so far, led by Alex Ovechkin with 22.

6.  The Caps have been uneven in their special teams play, posting a 23.8 percent power play and a 66.7 percent penalty kill.

7. The Caps once more struggle with faceoffs, their 41.3 winning percentage being third-worst in the league.

8.  Washington has allowed the most empty net goals in the league so far (three).

9.  The Caps have 14 goals at 5-on-5, tied for fourth-most in the league.

10.  Scoring or giving up the first goal has not mattered to the Caps so far; they are 1-1-0 when scoring first and 2-2-0 when scored upon first.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New Jersey: Vitek Vanecek

Will Vitek Vanecek find consistency and happiness in New Jersey after an up-and-down year with the Caps in 2021-2022?  Well, not if his first (and to date, only) game with the Devils is an indication.  The Detroit Red Wings lit him up for five goals on 22 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Wings on October 15th.  It was a cold splash of water in the face of the 27-year old netminder after going 4-0-0, 1.58, .928, with one shutout in the preseason.  It was an about face for Vanecek, who started last year 2-0-1, 1.30, .946 in his first three appearances with the Caps.

The Devils presented Vanecek with an opportunity, if not to be the number one netminder, then to provide consistent and perhaps frequent backup work behind MacKenzie Blackwood, who struggled last season (9-10-4, 3.39, .892, with two shutouts) while struggling with a heel injury that caused him to miss 46 games over two separate stretches.  Blackwood posting diminishing save percentages over his four seasons in New Jersey (.918/.915/.902/.892) had to be a concern going into this season, and Vanecek did have the advantage of playing for a playoff contender last season and serving as a number one goalie from time tom time (but not, as it turned out, consistently).  If Vanecek gets the call against his former teammates, it would be his first career appearance against the Caps.

Washington: Marcus Johansson

Through six games so far, Marcus Johansson has played as the veteran professional he is.  Now in his 13th NHL season and his second tour with the Caps (one of six NHL teams for which he played), he is tied for the team lead in points (2-3-5), has a team-high plus-3 rating, has three power play points (all assists), has recorded one of the Caps’ three game-winning goals, and has 13 shots on goal, tied for third-most on the team.  Johansson’s work on the power play has been especially noteworthy, his production being a pleasant surprise as a replacement for Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top power play unit.  He has been very effective in that role, considering that he has a total of just 15:57 in power play ice time to date, fifth among forwards.  Two of his three power play assists have been of the primary variety.  His 7.52 primary power play assists per 60 minutes ranks fourth among 110 forwards with at least 15 minutes of total power play ice time to date.  And, it might be something underestimated, but he has been able to get pucks to the net.  Johansson has only one missed shot in six games so far, fewest of any Caps forward appearing in more than one game.  Johansson is 4-5-9, plus-3, in 29 career games against New Jersey.

In the end…

The Caps were among the best teams on the road last season.  Their 25 road wins tied Calgary for most in the league, while their .683 points percentage on a record of 25-10-6 led the league.  They did it on both sides of the puck, their 3.44 goals per game ranking sixth in road scoring offense and their 2.80 goals allowed per road game being sixth-fewest in the league.  The Caps opened this season with a pair of road losses in Toronto and Ottawa but get a chance to turn things around in their first Metro Matchup of the season.

Capitals 4 – Devils 2

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 2

The Washington Capitals stumbled out of the gate in Week 1, dropping their first two decisions.  But they posted a pair of wins in three games in Week 2 to even their record for the season to date as they prepare to head on the road for Week 3.

Record (2-1-0)

The Caps took small steps to improve themselves in Week 2, following up a 1-2-0 opening week with a 2-1-0 record last week.  It was the second straight week in which the Caps did face a Metropolitan Division opponent, finishing the week having played four games against Atlantic Division foes and a pair against Pacific Division rivals.  The Caps got a chance to renew acquaintances with former coach Bruce Boudreau in Week 2 and after falling behind, 4-2, late in the third period, scored four third period goals to open the week on a winning note.  It looked as if the Caps would continue building on their success when they scored a pair of power play goals in the 11th minute of the first period against Ottawa, but the Senators rallied to score five unanswered goals (two into an empty net) to skate off with a 5-2 win over the Caps.  Washington closed the week coming back from a 2-0 deficit in the second period to beat the Los Angeles Kings, 4-3, to even their season record at 3-3-0.

Offense: 4.00/game (season: 3.17 / T-18th)

Washington had a good week in the offensive end of the ice, scoring four or more goals in two of the three contests, both of them wins.  Nine Caps shared in the 12 goals, three Caps each with a pair – John Carlson, Lars Eller, and Alex Ovechkin.  Carlson added three assists to lead the team with five points for the week.  Thirteen players recorded at least one point, ten of them with multi-point weeks.  Carlson also led the Caps in shots on goal with 14, extending what has been a prolific start in the shots department for the defenseman, who has 19 shots on goal in six games, tied for fourth among all NHL defensemen and six more than Dmitry Orlov among Caps defensemen.  What makes Carlson’s shots on goal a bit more impressive, in a strange since, is that he led the team in missed shots (five).  Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie had the Caps’ first goals in games for the week.

Defense: 4.00/game (season: 3.50/25th)

What the offense giveth, the defense gave back.  The Caps allowed three or more goals in all three games for the week, bringing their total of three-or-more goals allowed in games to five in six contests.  It was not that the Caps allowed a high volume of shots, the 31.8 shots allowed per game ranking 19th in the league.  What did seem to be a factor, though, was distance.  The ten non-empty net goals scored were achieved from an average distance of 17 feet, and three of them from less than ten feet.  The Caps appeared to get burned on several occasions by cross-ice feeds in deep that left goalie Darcy Kuemper with little chance to reset and defend opponents that had position on Caps defenders.  The Caps were right on the margin in terms of shot attempts at 5-on-5 with 272 attempts for and 274 against (49.8 percent).

Goaltending: 3.36 / .898 (season: 3.06 / .904)

It was Darcy Kuemper’s week, and what seemed to be the case in Week 2 is that communications remain to be settled, but as noted, what might have been more of an issue was the Caps leaving Kuemper to defend scoring chances too often from in-close, opponents getting chances for inside position on cross-ice feeds or avoiding having their sticks tied up by Caps defenders.  Kuemper’s perio-by-period performance mirrored, as one would expect, the defense in front of him.  He posted fine save percentages in the first periods of games (.947) and in the third periods of games (.946), but lagged in the second periods (.833).  Part of the problem might have been shot volumes, Kuemper facing a total of 42 second period shots in the three games while facing just 19 first period shots and 37 third period shots.  He had a decent week at even strength, stopping 88 of 98 shots, his .920 save percentage at evens ranking 21st among 57 goalies to play in Week 2.

Power Play: 4-for-10 / 40.0 percent (season: 23.8 percent / 14th)

It was a good week for the power play, the second best in the league (Colorado: 57.1 percent).  And the Caps were efficient in their use of time as well.  Despite ten power play chances, the Caps spent just 4:40 in power play ice time in total for the week.  Twice they scored power play goals in the first half minute of a power play.  Four different Caps had power play goals – Dylan Strome, Anthony Mantha, T.J. Oshie, and Alex Ovechkin, with Ovechkin extending his lead in all-time power play goals with the 286th of his career.  Eight different Caps had power play points with Marcus Johansson leading the team for the week (0-3-3).  Ovechkin led the team with four power play shots on goal, but Strome was right behind him with three in part of what has been a good start for the off-season acquisition overall.

Penalty Killing 3-for-6 / 50.0 percent (season: 66.7 percent / 30th)

It was not a good week for the penalty killers, efficiency-wise.  Washington finished last in the league for the week with the 50.0 percent kill rate.  The good part was that they only had to ice the penalty killing unit six times; only St. Louis had fewer shorthanded situations per game (1.0) than the Caps (2.0).  The quartet of Martin Fehervary, Conor Sheary, John Carlson, and Lars Eller were on ice for two power play goals against.

Faceoffs: 69-for-167 / 41.3 percent (41.3 percent / 30th)

At least the Caps are consistent in this category.  For the second straight week they finished with a 41.3 winning percentage on faceoffs.  It was a team-wide, rink-wide collapse.  The Caps could not top the 45 winning percentage mark in any of the three zones and were awful in the defensive end (38.6 percent).  No Capital taking at least ten draws could reach 50 percent for the week, and Nic Dowd, usually a reliably effective player on faceoffs, struggled in uncommon fashion (32.5 percent).

Goals by Period

Last season, the Caps were effective in scoring in the second periods of games.  In the early going this season, keeping opponents off the scoreboard in the second is an unwelcome issue.  The seven goals allowed by the Caps in the second periods of the three games in Week 2 tied for most in the league with Winnipeg and San Jose.  The Caps finished strong, though.  The eight third period goals they scored were most in the league for the week.


It is not a surprise that the Caps have been sluggish out of the gate with new and missing pieces to deal with, but they do lag behind last season’s six-game performance.  But it is not all that bad.  Yes, the Caps have taken losses in regulation when they did so in extra time last season at this point, but they are still averaging a standings point per game with a depleted lineup and are 3-1-0 in their last four games after starting the season with a pair of losses.  On the good side, the power play is off to a much better start than last season, but then again, it is a two-goal difference over 21 chances and six games.  That the faceoff winning percentage is lower, and significantly so, from last year at this point seems almost inconceivable.  If there is one set of numbers that jumps up, it is credited hits, where the 200 recorded by the Caps through six games this season almost doubles the number they had after six games last season (113).

In the end…

The Caps came into this season looking to at least stay close to the leaders and playoff-eligible teams until their health improves and they get players back into the lineup.  This makes the loss of Connor Brown for what appears an extended period difficult to deal with.  Another forward slot that needs someone to step up.  What has been a bit strange about this is that the Caps have not lacked much for scoring with nine players sharing in the 19 goals scored to date, 17 of them by eight forwards.  If the Caps can clean up their own end more effectively and give their goaltenders fewer instances of having to make big saves from in close, the Caps might be able to build some momentum as they head into Week 3.

Three Stars

  • First Star: Marcus Johansson (1-3-4, plus-2, one game-winning goal, three power play points, five shots on goal)
  • Second Star: Dmitry Orlov (0-4-4, plus-3, one power play point, six shots on goal, 22:28 in ice time per game)
  • Third Star: John Carlson (2-3-5, plus-1, two power play points, 14 shots on goal, 24:03 in ice time per game).