The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return to Capital One Arena ice on Saturday night to host the Arizona Coyotes in the first of a four-game home stand for the Caps. Washington will go into the contest… Arizona, meanwhile, arrives in DC for the first game in a marathon 14-tgame road expedition (the word “trip” doesn’t do it justice) that will not end until December 7th, when the Coyotes face the Oilers in Edmonton. Not that home has been kind to the Coyotes, who departed for the road after a ghastly 7-2 loss to the Dallas Stars that featured one of the easiest goals a player will ever score in the NHL.
Arizona has the fifth-worst record in the league (by standings points) as of Friday morning, a contender in the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes. They do not come to their low ranking by chance. The Coyotes have the third-worst scoring defense in the league (4.30 goals allowed per game). The sieve-like scoring defense is reflected in their goaltending, which had been poor generally. Of 69 goalies to appear in at least one game this season, Karel Vejmelka ranks 60th in goals against average (3.97) and 43rd in save percentage (.895) in seven appearances. He has been the better of the two Coyote goalies to see action. Connor Ingram is 65th of 68 netminders is goals against average (4.42) and 60th in save percentage (.874) in four appearances.
Vejmelka, who is in his second season with the Coyotes, was a fifth-round pick by the Nashville Predators in the 2015 Entry Draft, the 12th of 24 goalies selected in that draft. He was never signed by the Predators and was allowed to go into the free agent market in 2021. He signed a one-year deal with Arizona for $925,000 in May 2021 and made his debut with the Coyotes in following fall. In 2021-2022 he was 13-32-3, 3.68, .898, with one shutout. The Coyotes saw enough in his play to sign him to a three-year/$8.175 million contract last March. His performance to date this season had been difficult. In those seven appearances so far, he allowed five or more goals three times, and in one other he allwed four goals in 48 minutes of play, all four of those appearances ending in regulation losses. Oddly enough, he earned points in each of the three games in which he allowed three or fewer goals (2-0-1). Ominously for the Coyotes in the game at Capital One Arena on Saturday is that in four road games, his save percentage was under .900 on three occasions. Vejmelka has been a bad luck goalie in his brief experience against the Caps, appearing twice last season and allowing only one goal in each game. But the Coyotes lost both by 2-0 scored (each game featuring a Caps empty net goal for the final margin); he is 0-2-2, 1.02, .966 in those two career games against Washington.
Arizona’s scoring offense has not been great, but their 24th-ranked offense (2.80 goals per game) is better than Washington’s (25th-rnked at 2.75 goals per game). Lawson Crouse has had a respectable start in leading the Coyotes with five goals in the team’s first ten games. It is not a surprising start for the seven-year veteran, who had a career year with the Coyotes last season, going 20-14-34 I 65 games. Last year’s breakthrough was a long time in coming, though, for a player who was a first round pick of the Florida Panthers (15th overall) in the 2015 Entry Draft. He never suited up for the Panthers, traded to Arizona in August 2016, barely a year after he was drafted, with Dave Bolland for third round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional second round draft pick in 2018. He made his debut with Arizona in 2016-2017 season and posted 36 goals and 76 points in 281 games over five seasons before his breakthrough performance last season. Crouse comes into Saturday’s game on a three-game goal scoring streak (all at home), although the Coyotes won just one of those three games. He does have a goal in the last road game he played, a 6-3 Arizona win on October 25th. In six career games against the Caps, he is 2-1-3, plus-1.
Once upon a time, Shayne Gostisbehere was thought to be the next big thing among offense-minded defensemen. As a rookie, he was 17-29-46, plus-8, in 64 games with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was a first-team all-rookie selection and finished second in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2015-2016. He slipped a bit in his sophomore season, going 7-32-39, minus-21, but it was after that season that Gostisbehere was rewarded with a six-year/$27.0 million contract. His numbers rebounded with a 13-52-65, plus-10 season in 2017-2018. But then, his numbers took a tumble, in part due to intermittent absences due to injury. Over his next three seasons with the Flyers, he was 23-46-69, minus-26, in 161 games. It was after the 2020-2021 season in which he went 9-11-20, minus-2, in 41 games, that he was traded with a second round draft pick in 2022 and a seventh round draft pick in 2022 to the Arizona Coyotes for essentially nothing under the often used phrase, “future considerations.”
The change of scenery was kind to Gostisbehere, who was 14-37-51 (albeit with a minus-23 rating) last season, he first in Arizona. He led all Coyote defensemen in goals, assists, points, power play goals (two), power play points (19), while adding an overtime goal and two game-winning goals and finishing second in ice time among blueliners (22:11). But the combination of heavy ice time and laboring for a struggling team had its downsides. Gostisbehere was on ice for 87 even strength goals against, tied for tenth most among 345 defensemen to see time in the NHL last season. He is off to a start this season that resembles last season – 4-4-8 in goals, assists, and points; but he has a minus-10 rating in ten games, and only three defensemen among 241 to play so far have been on ice for more even strength goals than Gostisbehere’s 16. Gostisbehere is 2-8-10, minus-6, in 24 career games against the Capitals.When Arizona finally returns home on December 9th against the Boston Bruins, they will have played 20 of their first 24 games on the road.
2. Arizona’s offense has been reasonably competent on the road so far, averaging 3.17 goals per game, 14th in the league in scoring offense.
3. The Coyotes’ scoring defense on the road has been another matter entirely, the 4.83 goals allowed being the second-worst scoring defense in the league (Anaheim: 5.00 goals allowed per game).
4. One thing Arizona has done very well on the road is convert power play chances. Their 29.6 percent power play in road games ranks third in the league. And, they lead the league in power play chances per game on the road (4.50). They have eight power play goals in six road games, most in the league.
5. All four losses on the road for Arizona have come by three or more goals. And, they allowed six goals in each of those four losses.
1. The Caps have a history of success against this team when scoring first at home. They are 17-2-1, with two ties, when scoring first against the Coyotes (in all their incarnations) in Washington.
2. Only five teams in the league have a worse penalty kill on home ice than Washington (70.0 percent).
3. Only one team in the league has scored fewer first period goals on home ice than the two first period goals the Caps have in five home games (Carolina: one in three home games).
4. Washington has the third-fewest power play chances per game on home ice (2.80), which seems a bit of a waste, given that the Caps have the tenth-best power play on home ice (28.6 percent).
5. The Capitals average 33.82 hits per 60 minutes on home ice, the third-highest number in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Arizona: Liam O’Brien
Caps fans will remember that Liam O’Brien got his start in the NHL when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Capitals in October 2014 after an invitation to join the club in training camp for the 2014-2015 season. His performance in training camp that year was impressive enough for the Caps to sign him to a three-year/$1.925 million entry-level contract. That impressive performance in training camp was something O’Brien found difficult to repeat, finding it difficult just to get into the lineup in those firs three years with the Caps. Over those three years he appeared in a total of 14 games, going 1-1-2, plus-4, with 23 penalty minutes. The Caps did re-sign him to a one-year/$650,000 deal in 2017-2018, which bought the Caps three games, no points, an even rating, and five penalty minutes. He would sign two more on-year deals with the Caps, but he did not dress for the parent club and left the organization after the 2019-2020 season as a free agent. O’Brien signed with the Colorado Avalanche for the 2020-2021 season, a one-year/$700,000 contract, and played 12 games, going 0-3-3, plus-1.
It was at that point that O’Brien found himself i Arizona, signing a one-year/$750,000 contract for the 2021-2022 season. He appeared in a career high 39 games, going 2-1-3, plus-1, and amassing 106 penalty minutes. No player in the league appearing in more than 35 games had a higher penalties taken per 60 minutes (4.22). O’Brien signed a two-year/$1.55 million deal with the Coyotes last March. This season, in the first year of that contract, he has appeared in all nine games for Arizona, going 0-1-1, even, with 16 penalty minutes, and he is averaging a career high 12:13 in ice time per game. O’Brien is more of a throwback as a physical player (or “enforcer,” if you prefer); he has three goals and nine points in 77 career games six seasons in the NHL, but he has 18 fights over that span. He has faced the Capitals only once in his career with no points, an even rating, and two penalty minutes.
Washington: Joe Snively
Injuries early in the season required the Caps to dip into their depth at the forward position, which has given players like Joe Snively an opportunity to show that they merit longer stretches wearing an NHL, instead of an AHL jersey. When presented with an opportunity last season, he put up good numbers in limited action – 4-3-7, plus-3, in 12 games – before a wrist injury cut short his season.
Perhaps it is the sophomore jinx, or perhaps it is result of lingering effects from the surgery he had to repair his injured wrist, but Snively has not had a strong start to this season (no points in four games with a minus-1 rating). On the other hand, his numbers after his first four games last season were only a bit more impressive – 0-2-2, plus-3.
With the Caps missing as many forwards as they are, especially top-six forwards with heavier scoring responsibilities, they might be counting on Snively’s history carrying forward into this season and find the possibility of an injection of scoring ability a reason to get him into the lineup. After all, he did post 58 goals in 129 games in four years at Yale University, and he had 35 goals in 119 games over four seasons with Hershey in the AHL before being elevated to the Caps. It is the supplemental scoring of the sort Snively can provide that the Caps need to get out of their recent slump and get back in the thick of things in the Metropolitan Division. It is that absence of scoring (and not just by Snively), to an extent, that has contributed to a 1-2-1 record for the Caps with Snively in the lineup. Making the most of the opportunity he has been presented and Capitals success would seem to be linked for the time being. Snively has never faced the Coyotes.
In the end…
Losing streaks at this time of year can make things very difficult for teams trying to stay close to the leaders in their respective divisions. Teams are saddled with having to climb their way upward and over teams in what could be a weeks or months long process to return to playoff competitiveness. In other words, you cannot win a Stanley Cup in November, but you can lose one if you fall too far behind. The Caps are not yet in that “urgent” state as a result of the 0-1-2 streak they bring into this game; they are only four points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division and two points out of fourth place. But they cannot be leaving points on the table against poor-to-mediocre teams. That is what makes this game important, to halt the losing momentum and to bank points against an inferior team. Losing this game on home ice with a more difficult stretch of the schedule looming could make November a difficult month to recover from. Arizona has allowed six goals in each of their four road losses. We will go with that.
Capitals 6 – Coyotes 2