The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals look to extend their good fortune on their first long road trip of the season when they visit the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. The Caps defeated the New Jersey Devils, 6-3, on Monday to open the trip, but this contest could prove to be a move up in opponent weight class. Through Tuesday’s games, Dallas sits atop the Central Division with a 4-2-1 record and have won both games played on home ice, impressive wins over the Nashville Predators (5-1) and Winnipeg Jets (4-1).
Dallas has been a good, if not dominating team on offense so far, their 3.29 goals per game tied for 14th in scoring offense. What they do have is balance. Three players are tied for the team lead in points. Two of them – Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz – are 2-5-7 through the Stars’ first seven games Robertson has done much of his damage on the power play with a goal and two assists to tie Tyler Seguin for the team lead in power play points (three).
Robertson was a second-round (39th overall) pick in the 2017 Entry Draft by the Stars and has to be considered among the biggest overachievers of that draft. His 60 career goals to date rank third in his draft class, trailing only Vancouver’s Elias Pettersson (100) and New Jersey’s Nico Hischier (81), fifth in power play goals (15), tied for second in overtime goals, and second in game-winning goals (15, trailing only Pettersson (16)). He is seventh in points in his draft class (132) and eighth in power play points (31). His plus-37 goal differential on ice at even strength is second in his draft class (Cale Makar: plus-79), and he is 13th in takeaways (71). He is a very efficient shooter, his 16.2 shooting percentage ranking sixth in his draft class among 67 skaters with at least 15 shots on goal. Odd Robertson fact… he is already fourth in goals, all-time, among players born in California and sixth, all-time, in points. Robertson comes into this game without a point in consecutive games for the first time this season after posting points in four of his first five games, all in Stars wins. He is 0-1-1, minus-1, in two career games against Washington.
Roope Hintz has a similar draft pedigree as Robertson – second round (49th overall) by Dallas in the 2015 Entry Draft. He, too, can be thought of as an overachiever, relative to his draft slot. His 82 career goals rank 13th in his draft class, he is tied for 12th in power play goals (21), tied for eighth in overtime goals (three), tied for ninth in game-winning goals (17), and third in shorthanded goals (six). He is 18th in points in his draft class (177), tenth in power play points (63), and tied for sixth in shorthanded points (seven). He, like Robertson, is an efficient shooter, his 15.3 shooting percentage ranking fourth in his draft class. Hintz broke out in a big way last season, his 37 goals (second to Robertson’s 41 for the team lead) in 80 games topping his combined total over the previous two seasons (34 in 101 games). Dallas was 25-5-0 in the 30 games in which he scored at least one goal. Hintz goes into Thursday’s game in a bit of a goal scoring slump. He had a pair of goals, his only two goals this season, in a 5-1 win over Nashville in the second game of the season. He does not have a goal in five games since on ten shots. Dallas is 2-2-1 in those five games. Hintz is 3-1-4, minus-2, in five career games against Washington.
The Stars are second in the league in scoring defense through Tuesday’s games (2.14 goals allowed per game). And since the buck – or puck – stops with the goalie, that means Jake Oettinger should be having a fine start as the Stars’ number one netminder. He is. His four wins are tied for second in the league, while his goals against average (1.41) and save percentage (.953) rank second among 55 goalies to log at least 100 minutes so far. Oettinger was the first goaltender taken in the 2017 Entry draft (26th overall) after his first season with the Boston University Terriers in the NCAA in which he went 21-11-3, 2.11, .927, with four shutouts. He played two more seasons with BU, going 37-29-8, 2.45, .921, with nine shutouts.
He advanced to the AHL, playing parts of two seasons with the Texas Stars before making his NHL debut in unusual fashion, getting his first league action in the post season, dressing for two games, playing in a relief role in each. Still, he did stop all eight shots he faced in 37 minutes of action. He has stepped smoothly in to a role as number one goalie for the Stars. Now in his third regular season of play, he is 45-24-8, 2.39, .916, with two shutouts in 82 appearances to date. Oettinger won his first four decisions this season, and even though he lost his last outing, it was a 26-save effort in a 3-1 loss to Boston. He allowed no more than two goals in any of his five appearances to date, extending a regular season game streak to eight games dating back to his last three appearances last season. He has been very good, and very fortunate at home over his career to date. While his goals against average/save percentage have not differed much, home and away (2.35/.913 at home, 2.45/.920 on the road), he is 30-7-5 at home and 15-17-3 on the road. In two career games against the Caps, Oettinger is 1-0-0, 1.50, .950.Dallas is fifth in the league in home scoring offense (4.50 goals per game) and tied for first in home scoring defense (1.00 goals allowed per game). OK, it is only two games.
2. Overall, Dallas is a top-ten team on both sides of special teams – eighth on the power play (26.1 percent) and seventh on power plays (88.2 percent).
3. Dallas has been reasonably successful to date with their 4-2-1 record, but scoring first has not seemed to matter. They are 3-1-1 when scoring first (.600/T-18th) and 1-1-0 when allowing the first goal (.500/T-11th).
4. Dallas has been a very good 40 minute team this season. They have taken leads into the third period four times (4-0-0) and trailed going into the third period only once (0-1-0)
5. Only four of 20 skaters to dress for the Stars do not have a point so far, only two who have appeared in more than one game (forward Denis Gurianov, with none in six games, and defenseman Colin Miller, with none in seven games).This might not be a high-shot volume game. Washington and Dallas rank 25th and 24th, respectively, in shots on goal per game (28.3 per game for the Caps, 28.6 for the Stars).
2. The Caps are one of five teams in the league to score at least 3.25 goals per game (3.57) and allow at least 3.25 goals per game (3.43). The others are Minnesota (3.67/4.67), Edmonton (3.67/3.33), Los Angeles (3.38/4.13), and Seattle (3.25/3.50).
3. Washington is one of three teams to have scored and allowed at least ten second period goals (10 scored/10 allowed). The others are Seattle (13/10) and Boston (10/10).
4. The Caps have a better record when trailing first (3-2-0/.600) than they do when scoring first (1-1-0/.500).
5. Nic Dowd is the only Capital with more than one goal on the road thus far (two).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Dallas: Joe Pavelski
Three active players in the NHL have recorded at least 400 career goals, at least 900 career points, and have a rating of plus-150 or better. Sidney Crosby is one, Patrice Bergeron is another. The third is Joe Pavelski, one of the more underrated players of his era. Pavelski, in addition to being productive, is consistent. Now in his 17th NHL season, he recorded 20 or more goals in 12 of his first 16 seasons, 50 or more points in 12 seasons, ten or more power play goals in seven seasons. He has been a solid two-way performer, winning Selke Trophy votes for best defensive forward 13 times. Only once in 17 seasons, including this one, did he post a minus-rating for the season (minus-4 in 75 games with San Jose in 2018-2019).
Pavelski has had an up and down start to the season. He had points in his first two contests (1-2-3, plus-4) before going consecutive games without a point with an “even” rating. In Game 5 he broke out in a big way, going 3-1-4, plus-2, in a 5-2 win in Montreal against the Canadiens on October 22nd. He then went without a point in consecutive games, the streak he brings into Thursday night’s contest against the Caps. It is early, but he has a distinct home/road split – 0-2-2, plus-3, in 14:03 per game in ice time at home versus 4-1-5, plus-2, in 15:52 of average ice time on the road. It is not inconsistent with his career numbers, which tilt toward heavier home ice production (229-265-494, plus-122, in 591 home games) than on the road (196-241-437, plus-30, in 584 road games).
Even though he is one of the most productive players in the league, he signed just a one-year contract with Dallas last March that will pay him $5.5 million this season, a pay cut from the $7.0 million per season he earned on the three-year deal that expired at the end of last season. At age 38, it is not an unreasonable contract for the team, and it would seem to provide some incentive to produce for Pavelski if he is considering playing past this season. He is 9-14-23, plus-6, in 23 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Nick Jensen
Nick Jensen’s early days as a Capital were characterized by an offense-challenged game and a generally anonymous presence on the ice. The former is not a bad thing for a primarily defensive defenseman, although he did go his first 108 games as a Capital without a goal. The latter is not a bad thing for a defenseman if that anonymity extends to the opponents against whom he plays. In his first two-plus seasons with the Caps he was on ice for only 82 even strength goals, 61 fewer than John Carlson and 32 fewer than Dmitry Orlov despite leading Capitals defensemen in games played with 141 (Carlson and Orlov each had 140).
Last season, Jensen’s offensive game opened up more. He set a career high in goals (five) and points (21). His plus-32 rating was by leaps and bounds better than his previous best (plus-5 with the Caps in 2020-2021). He also opened up his physical game with 135 credited hits, by far the most he recorded in any season in his career to date (he had 82, split between the Caps and Detroit, in 2018-2019).
Jensen opened this season as if he was going to obliterate his personal best offensive numbers from last season. In seven games, he is 1-4-5, plus-3, shooting 11.1 percent (his previous best was 6.8 percent with Detroit in 2016-2017). He has been on ice for eight even strength goals scored by the Caps, tied for the team lead among defensemen with Carlson. His on-ice even strength goal differential of plus-3 is best among the Caps’ blueliners. He is also getting significant penalty killing time, second among defensemen in shorthanded ice time per game (2:17, trailing only Trevor van Riemsdyk (2:27)). Jensen does not have a point and has a minus-5 rating in eight career games against Dallas.
In the end…
The Caps have scored 18 goals in their last four games. Dallas allowed single goals in each of their first three games, but they have given up 12 goals in their last four games. Although the Caps do not have the best of records in Texas, it has not been bad (5-4-1 in their last ten visits to Dallas), and they won their last two trips to Big D, 4-1 in October 2019 and 5-0 last January. This has the makings of three in a row for the men in red.
Capitals 4 – Stars 3