The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals return to the ice for the second game of their four-game home stand when the Edmonton Oilers come to town on Monday night. The Caps go into this game reeling, losers of four in a row (two in extra time) and five of their last six contests. The Oilers are on a mini-losing streak of their own, dropping their last two decisions, 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils and 6-2 to the Dallas Stars on Saturday in their most recent outing.
The Oilers can score. They are as close to a “throwback” team, reminiscent of the run-and-gun clubs of the 1980’s, as any team in the league. And that starts with Connor McDavid. Since arriving in the NHL in 2015-2016, McDavid has more than lived up to his billing as a “generational” talent. His 251 career goals rank fourth among all NHLers since 2015-2016, and his 722 points have just about lapped the field (Patrick Kane is second over that span with 633 points). His 56 power play goals might sound a bit less impressive, tied for 26th over that period, but his 230 power play points are 25 more than teammate Leon Draisaitl. Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is the next-ranked non-Oiler on that list with 206 power play points. What gets lost in McDavid’s stratospheric offensive numbers is the fact that he is a minutes-eater. No forward since he came into the league averages more ice time per game (21:39).
As good as he has been, though, this year could be his statistical best. In 12 games to date McDavid is 12-13-25. That is an 82-89-171 scoring pace per 82 games. Sustainable, probably not (…probably). But his first career 50-goal season would not be out of the question (his career high is 44 goals set last season), 150 points would seem to be within reach. How significant would that be? No NHL player has topped 150 points since Mario Lemieux did it with Pittsburgh in 1995-1996 (161 points in 70 games). McDavid already has four four-point games this season, twice as many as any other player (Mikko Rantanen and Artemi Panarin). McDavid is 6-8-14, plus-2, in ten career games against Washington.
Zach Hyman is a name fans in the east might not hear a lot of, but he is quietly putting together a solid, if at times uneven, career. A classic overachiever, relative to his draft position (fifth round/123rd overall by Florida, for whom he never played, in the 2010 Entry Draft), Hyman has 119 career goals (19th in his draft class) and 252 career points (21st in his draft class). Most of that production was compiled with the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he played six seasons after he was traded from Florida with future considerations for Greg McKegg. Last season, after signing a seven-year/$38.5 million contract with the Oilers, he went out and posted a career high 27 goals, 27 assists, and 54 points. His five power play goals and ten power play points were career highs. His four game-winning goals tied a career high. His 213 shot on goal and 19:28 in ice time per game were career highs. In the 22 games in which he scored at least one goal, Edmonton was 19-3-0. They were 31-9-2 in the 41 games in which he had at least one point. Production and success went hand in hand for Hyman and the Oilers. Success and winning have lived together in harmony for Hyman so far this season as well. Edmonton is 5-0-0 in those games in which he has as least one goal and 7-1-0 in the eight games in which he has points. Hyman is 1-5-6, even, in 12 career games against Washington.
When goaltender Jack Campbell was signed to a five-year/$25.0 million contract with Edmonton last July, the thought was that signing the seven-year veteran would shore up a weak spot for the Oilers entering his eighth NHL season. Things have not quite worked out that way. After posting a 31-9-6, 2.64, .914, five shutout record with Toronto last season, the thinking seemed to have merit. But so far this season, Campbell has struggled stopping the puck. In eight games to date, he does have a 5-3-0 record, but he has stopped on 209 of 238 shots, a .874 save percentage, the worst of his career since he appeared in one game for Dallas in 2013-2014 and stopped 41 of 47 shots (.872). He has allowed four goals in five of eight appearances and allowed fewer than three only once, stopping 20 of 21 shots in a 2-0 loss to St. Louis on October 22nd, the only game this season to date in which the Oilers were blanked. He has faced a lot of shots, though. Five times in eight games he saw at least 35 shots on goal. He also happens to be 4-1-0 in those games despite allowing 18 goals. Odd Campbell fact…in eight appearances to date, only one has been on the road. He stopped 31 of 36 shots in a 6-5 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago on October 27th. Campbell is 1-1-0, 3.06, .870 in two career appearances against the Capitals.Connor McDavid will be playing in his 500th career game on Monday night.
2. Edmonton is one of two teams in the league to both score and allow at least 3.50 goals per game (3.83 goals per game/3.50 goals allowed per game). Pittsburgh is the other one (3.50/3.67)
3. The Oilers can be loose with the puck. Their 12.50 giveaways per 60 minutes are most in the league.
4. Of the 20 skaters to play for the Oilers so far, 18 have at least one point. Only defenseman Markus Niemelainen and center Brad Malone have been shut out.
5. Speaking of Brad Malone, yes, that “Brad Malone” who was once a Capital, although he never played for the big club. He ended up being part of the deal that brough Kevin Shattenkirk and Pheonix Copley to Washington at the trading deadline in February 2017.The Caps are still hitting with abandon, their 29.14 credited hits per game ranking fifth in the league.
2. Washington has one empty net goal this season (Alex Ovechkin); only four teams have none – Los Angeles, Anaheim, Calgary, and the New York Rangers.
3. All 18 Capitals to appear in at least five games to date have at least one point.
4. Thirteen skaters have a minus rating through 13 games, Ovechkin being worst of this group at minus-9.
5. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nic Dowd lead the team in penalties taken (six apiece). Dowd at least is second on the club in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (2.46).
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Edmonton: Leon Draisaitl
Successful teams have the star. McDavid in Edmonton, Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, Alex Ovechkin in Washington. But those successful teams also have the trusty sidekick, although that might understate the importance of that second player for team success. Crosby has Evgeni Malkin, a likely hall-of-famer in his own right. Ovechkin has Nicklas Backstrom, a potential, if not yet likely hall-of-famer. Edmonton has Leon Draisaitl. “Sidekick” be an especially understated term in his case. Since coming into the league in 2014-2015, Draisaitl has 261 goals, fifth-most in the league over that span, and 639 points, fourth on the total scoring list. He is closing in on 100 career power play goals, the 98 he has ranking third on the list since he arrived in the league, while his 207 power play points rank seventh. A two-time 50 goal scorer in eight seasons preceding this one, he posted a career high 55 goals last year in 80 games, while his 110 points tied a career high set in 2019-2020. He has been an uncommonly efficient shooter over his career as well, posting a 17.9 shooting percentage, fourth in the league overall in shooting percentage since he came into the league (minimum: 100 shots on goal). Draisaitl already has seven goals (on 39 shots – 17.9 percent) this season, and he comes into this game on a three-game goal scoring streak with points in each of his last seven games. Over that seven-game span he had three or more points three times, including a five point game (1-4-5) in a 7-4 win over Nashville on November 1st. Draisaitl is 5-4-9, plus-5, in 11 career games against the Caps.
Washington: Trevor van Riemsdyk
It is a bad time for the Caps to perhaps miss John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov for this game, especially when two of the most lethal offensive players in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are coming to town. Trevor van Riemsdyk had better have one of his better, if not best games if the Caps are to pull this one out. And that means not having his name mentioned a lot during the TV and radio broadcasts, being solid and effective if he is on the ice when one of the other Oiler weapons is skating.
With the injuries starting to hit the defense, van Riemsdyk has seen his ice time increase. Twice in the last three games he skated more than 20 minutes, and he is averaging 18:57 over his last five games after averaging 15:13 in his first eight games. While he has had a bit more engagement in the offensive end of the ice with the increase in minutes (he had his first two two-shot games of the season in his last three games with one goal scored), that will not likely be where is effort will be most needed. Given that van Riemsdyk has been on ice for only six even strength goals in 13 games, he could be effective in those situations when the teams are skating five a side. But watch Edmonton power plays. Van Riemsdyk has been on ice for five power play goals against, most of any Capitals skater. He is 2-1-3, plus-4, in 12 career games against Edmonton.
In the end…
This will be a challenge for the Caps. A team struggling to score as Washington has gone lately (ten goals over their last six games), the Capitals do not want to get into a match race against the Oiler thoroughbreds. Edmonton has, however, shown a propensity for giving up goals in high volume. The Caps could use a couple of lucky bounces in this one as well as discipline in their own end and in terms of staying out of the penalty box.
Capitals 4 – Oilers 3