The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
Having missed for the second time this season an opportunity to post a three-game winning streak, the Washington Capitals look to come back from their 2-0 loss in Dallas to the Stars when they visit Nashville to take on the Predators on Saturday night.
The shutout at the hands of the Stars was the first time this season that the Caps were blanked, ending a run of offensive dominance over which they scored 18 goals in four games, twice posting six goals. This will be the third of a four-game road trip, the Caps splitting the first two games. They are 1-3-0 on the road so far this season.
The Predators will be playing in the last of a three-game home stand, having split their first two contests, a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers followed by a 6-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. The six-goal explosion against the Blues brought to an end, Predators fans hope, of an uneven offensive performance by their club to date. In their first seven games before their win over the Blues, Nashville was held to a single goal three times and did not score more than three times since beating the San Jose Sharks, 4-1, on Opening Night. While they have had reasonably good performance from the forwards on the roster, the defense has been notoriously absent on the score sheet.
Consider the trio of Mattias Ekholm, Dante Fabbro, and Alexandre Carrier. Last season, they combined for 12 goals and 85 points. So far this season, they have combined for no goals and three points. Fabbro is a bit of a mystery. Is this year’s start a slump, or is it a regression to a more typical level of performance. Last season he was 3-21-24, plus-13, in 66 games after going 8-16-24, minus-9, in 108 career games previously. His per game production improved over the three seasons prior to this one, suggesting that this is merely a slump to start the season. There is also his having a rather poor start to last season, going 0-4-4, plus-5, in his first 24 games before finishing 3-17-20, plus-8, over his last 42 games and his 0-2-2, even scoring line in his first 11 games of the 2020-2021 season. Hot starts do not seem to be his thing. Fabbro is 0-3-3, plus-2, in four career games against the Capitals.
Ekholm might be showing signs of wear. Now in his 13th NHL season, he posted 20 or more points in six of the seven seasons preceding this one. But in five of his last six seasons he averaged more than 23 minutes of ice time per game and barely missed that mar in 2020-2021 (22:52). Since 2014-2015, his 597 games played rank fifth among all NHL defensemen. His ice time load mattered, at least last season. In 26 games in which he logged at least 24 minutes, Nashville was 18-4-4. When skating less than 22 minutes, they were 9-7-1 (he did not skate fewer than 20 minutes in any of the 76 games in which he played last season). Ekholm’s ice time has been pared back a bit to start this season; he has not yet topped 23 minutes in ice time in any game and has two games in which he logged fewer than 20 minutes. Ekholm is 4-7-11, plus-6, in 15 career games against the Caps.
Carrier might be suffering from a “sophomore slump.” Okay, this is actually his fifth season with NHL experience, but last year was technically a “rookie” season for Carrier, who played in only 24 NHL games over the previous three seasons, thus preserving his rookie status. It was an impressive season for Carrier, finishing last year tied for ninth in goals among rookie defensemen (three), third in assists (27), third in points (30), first in plus-minus (plus-26), tied for fourth in power play points (four), one of only six defensemen with at least one shorthanded point (an assist), and second in ice time per game among defensemen dressing for at least ten games (20:59). Only Detroit’s Moritz Seider (78) and Washington’s Martin Fehervary (72) were on-ice for more even strength goals scored (63), and his plus-26 goal differential at evens doubled that of second-place Timothy Liljegren (plus-13). And despite being on the smallish side (5’11”/174 pounds), he finished eighth among rookie defensemen in credited hits (95). This season, though, is another story. In eight games he has yet to record a point, has a minus-1 rating, and is averaging less than 18 minutes of ice time per game (17:42). The odd thing about his ice time is that when skating more than 18 minutes, the Predators are 3-1-0, while they are 0-3-1 when he skated fewer than 18 minutes. Carrier has no points and has a minus-3 rating in two career games against Washington.
1. It was only in their most recent game, the 6-2 win over St. Louis, that the Predators got their first goal from a defenseman this season, a third-period power play goal by Roman Josi. Nashville has only nine even strength points from seven defensemen in 48 man games to date.
2. Nashville has struggled on special teams. Their special team index of 96.6 (17.9 percent power play plus 78.7 percent penalty kill) ranks 24th in the league.
3. The Predators seem to prefer, or at least have played to date, deliberate style without a lot of flow over long stretches of time, at least if faceoffs are an indicator of the stop-and-start nature of games. Only five teams have taken more draws than Nashville (254).
4. Scoring early has not been something Nashville has done frequently. At least not yet. Only four teams have fewer first period goals than the Predators (five), and only seven teams have scored first fewer times than Nashville (three).
5. Nashville is one of five teams looking for their first win when leading after one period (0-1-1).The Caps have lost three road games in regulation so far this season in four road games played. Last year, they did not lose their third road game in regulation until November 30th, in their 12th road game of the season to that point and 23rd game overall.
2. The shutout in Dallas was the first against the Caps this season and matches their total times shutout last season – once, a 1-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Washington on January 24th. It was the first time they were shut out on the road since dropping a 1-0 loss to the New York Islanders on April 6, 2021.
3. The Caps are another of those five teams looking to win their first game when leading after one period (0-2-0). In fact, the Caps have lost all four games to date in which either team took a lead into the first intermission (0-4-0).
4. Fans might not miss a lot of action if they get to the arena late or tune in late. Washington has only six first period goals scored this season. On the other side, they allowed only six goals in the first frame.
5. Washington has only one one-goal win this season. Then again, they have only two one-goal decisions in eight games.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Nashville: Juuse Saros
The Predators signed Juuse Saros to a four-year/$20.0 million contract in August 2021, hoping he would slide seamlessly into the number one goaltending spot after the retirement of Predator legend Pekka Rinne after the 2020-2021 season. Truth be told, he was already the number one goalie in Rinne’s last season, starting 35 games (21-11-1, 2.28, .927, three shutouts) to 21 for Rinne (10-12-1, 2.84, .907, two shutouts). Last season, in the first year of his new deal, Saros demonstrated that the trust placed in him by virtue of the big contract had merit. He was 38-25-3, 2.64, .918, with four shutouts. He was third in the league in wins, and among 48 goalies with at least 1,500 minutes played, he was 15th in goals against average and eighth in save percentage, while those four shutouts were tied for sixth-most in the league. And while the 21 goalies taken in the 2013 Entry Draft is not the most accomplished draft class at the position, he does lead that group in games (228) and wins (116), as well as goals against average (2.54; minimum: 250 minutes played), and is second in that group in save percentage (.920).
Saros has been inconsistent to date this season. The six games on his record are characterized by a roller-coaster game-to-game save percentage. He opened the season with a 30-save effort (.968 SV) in Nashville’s 4-1 win over San Jose. But then he stopped only 42 of 50 shots (.840) in back-to-back losses to the Dallas Stars. Then came a 32-save game (.914) in a Gimmick loss to Los Angeles before stopping just 22 of 25 shots (.880) against Philadelphia in a 3-1 loss. In his most recent outing, he stopped 33 of 35 shots (.943) in a 6-2 win over St. Louis. Saros is 4-2-0, 3.02, .901 in six career games against the Caps.
Washington: Conor Sheary
Conor Sheary has faced each of the 32 NHL teams over his eight-year career. He has no goals in six games in his career against the Vegas Golden Knights, which might not be all that surprising, since Vegas is in just their sixth NHL season. He also is looking for his first career goal against the Nashville Predators, against whom he has eight career games. If he is going to get that first career goal against the Predators, Saturday might be the night. Sheary already has four goals in eight games so far, alone at the top of the Caps’ leader board. He has slowed down a bit, though. After posting goals in three of his first four games, he has one in his last four.
Part of it is shooting frequency. In those first four games he had shots on goal in each of them, ten in all, and no fewer than two in any of those games. In his last four games he has a total of three shot on goal and was held without one twice. There is also a home/road skew in his goals to date, although four goals and eight games is a small number from which to draw conclusions. He has three of his four goals scored on home ice and one, in the 6-3 win over New Jersey last Monday, on the road. An odd Sheary stat to date; for what it is worth, he has been credited with only one hit over his last six games after posting four in his first two contests. For a player who has a feisty streak and plays, or at least has an attitude, bigger than his listed size (5’9”/178 pounds), that is a bit of a surprise. Sheary is 0-3-3, even, in eight career games against Nashville.
In the end…
The Capitals have been engaged in something like a “box step” dance to open the season. Two losses, two wins, loss, two wins, loss. They have not been able to generate sustained momentum, but the other side of that is they have not endured the sort of soul-crushing slump to start the year of the sort Vancouver suffered. Now, as they start the back half of their four-game road trip, it is a chance to grab some momentum once more, which will be important when they wrap things up on the road in Carolina on Monday.
Capitals 3 – Predators 2