The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The schedule says that the Washington Capitals have played 14 games. Well, the season starts for real on Wednesday night. The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming to town. For the 72nd time since Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby laced up their skates to face each other for the first time, their teams will meet once again. But unlike previous meetings in which these teams were looking for that little edge that a win could provide as they battled for divisional supremacy and a high playoff seed, both teams are just looking for a win to get out of slumps. While the Caps beat the Edmonton Oilers, 5-4, on Monday night, they are 2-3-2 in their last seven games. As for the Pens, their last seven games have been little short of a disaster, going 0-6-1, 30th in the league in points percentage (0.71) since the losing streak started on October 24th.
Uncharacteristically, the Penguins have had difficulties scoring. Coming into this season, the Penguins had the second-best scoring offense in the league in the Sidney Crosby era at 3.12 goals per game (Vegas, which began operations only in 2017-2018, is first at 3.19 goals per game). However, while the Pens still do rank eighth in scoring offense in the league overall (3.50 goals per game), they are averaging just 2.29 goals over their 0-6-1 run, tied for 28th in the league in scoring offense over that span.
It is not surprising that Crosby and Jake Guentzel are tied for the team lead in goals over that dismal streak (three). But there is a third player in that group – Rickard Rakell. Playing in his first full season with the Penguins since coming to Pittsburgh from Anaheim last February for a second-round draft pick in 2022 , Zach Aston-Reese, Calle Clang and Dominik Simon, Rakell is trying to regain the scoring touch he had with the Ducks in 2015-2016 through 2017-2018 when he posted 87 goals (with a 15.2 shooting percentage) and 163 points in 220 games. However, after recording a career-high 34 goals with the Ducks in 2017-2018, he had just 62 goals (an 8.8 shooting percentage) and 154 points in 256 games with the Ducks and Penguins, although last year’s 20 goals split between Anaheim and Pittsburgh might have been a signal that his goal scoring would improve. He is 5-1-6, plus-4, in 12 games overall this season, but while he has three goals on 18 shots (18.6 percent) at home, he has only two goals on 26 shots (7.7 percent on the road). Rakell is 3-4-7, minus-3, in 13 career games against Washington.
Four skaters to appear in all seven games of the current losing streak are without a point. Perhaps no player in that group is more frustrating than Kasperi Kapanen. His assets have been described as “[owning] a very good sniper’s release, so goal-scoring is his strong suit. Skates very well and knows how to free himself from coverage to get open. Can even play the point on the power play, due to his great shot.” Reality, however, has been out of sync with the scouting report.
Kapanen started as a Penguin, drafted by Pittsburgh 22nd overall in the 2014 Entry Draft, only to trade him to Toronto in July 2015 with a first round draft pick in 2016, a third round draft pick in 2016, Scott Harrington and Nick Spaling for a second round draft pick in 2016, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon and Phil Kessel. Kapanen lasted five seasons in Toronto (only the last two as a full-time player) and more or less played himself out of town due to a variety of issues (consistency and being moved all over the lineup seem to have been important); he was 41-49-90 in 202 games with the Maple Leafs. But was traded back to the Pens in August 2020 with Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren to the for a first round draft pick in 2020 , Filip Hallander, Evan Rodrigues, and David Warsofsky. In two seasons with the Penguins coming into this season, Kapanen was 22-40-62 in 119 games, but those numbers seemed light, given his skill set. He scored a goal on Opening Night for the Penguins in a 6-2 win over Arizona, but he does not have one since. Kapanen is 6-5-11, plus-1, in 19 career games against the Capitals.
Tristan Jarry has had an up and down career as the Penguins’ number one netminder. Since starting 31 of 69 games in 2019-2020, his number have been up and down – 20-12-1/2.43/.921/three shutouts in 2019-2020; 25-9-3/2.75/.909/two shutouts in 2020-2021; and 34-18-6/2.42/.919/four shutouts last season. Were the patter to hold, this would be an off year for Jarry. And so far, it has been. Jarry goes into Wednesday with a 4-3-1/3.38/.903 record and has allowed 19 goals over his last four appearances with a .867 save percentage. He is struggling in 38th place in goals against average among 52 goalies with at least 200 minutes and 28th place in save percentage. His .918 save percentage at even strength ranks 22nd among 55 goalies appearing in at least four games, but his .840 save percentage when the Penguins are shorthanded rank just 36th in that group. His home and road split is very unbalanced, too. At home, he is 3-1-1, 2.79, .919; while on the road, he is 1-2-0, 4.37, .879. He has allowed nine even strength goals at home and nine on the road, but he has played 123 fewer minutes on the road than he has at home to date. Jarry is 5-4-1, 3.08, .905, with one shutout in 10 appearances against the Caps.Pittsburgh posted six goals in four of their first five games this season; only once since have they recorded more than three in a game (November 1st in a 6-5 overtime loss to Boston).
2. None of the dozen Penguin skaters to play in all seven games of their losing streak has a “plus” rating. Defenseman Jan Rutta is minus-1 to lead that group.
3. In their seven-game losing streak, the Pens lost four times by three or more goals, third-most in the league since the streak started on October 24th.
4. While the Penguins allowed only six first period goals in the seven losses, they allowed 12 second period goals (tied for third-most in the league) and 14 third period goals (tied for most in the league with St. Louis).
5. Over their 0-6-1 run, no team in the league allowed more 5-on-5 goals than the Penguins (21).Washington is averaging 3.14 power play chances on home ice this season to date, 24th in the league.
2. Only once in seven home games have the Caps led a game at the first intermission. Only Minnesota, Anaheim, and Philadelphia have failed to take a lead to the first intermission on home ice so far.
3. The Capitals have taken a lead into the third period four times in seven home games but won only twice, their .500 winning percentage in those games tied for 25th in the league.
4. The Caps have only three first period goals on home ice so far. Only Arizona has fewer (two).
5. At the other end of contests, the Caps’ ten third period goals at home are tied for sixth most in the league.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin
Here is a number: 79. Caps fans will be hoping it is rendered irrelevant late on Wednesday night. That is the all-time record for game winning goals held by a Penguin, a record currently held by Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin could tie it if he should find the twine for a game-winner. It would also be his first of the season. Only once in his 16 years in the NHL preceding this season did he finish a year without a game-winning goal, that being in 2020-2021, when he appeared in just 33 games. And that brings up another number, one that Pens fans will not like to ponder: zero. As in “zero” seasons in his last 13 in which he dressed for 80 or more games. Only twice in that span did he appear in 70 or more games, and only seven times did he appear in 60 or more games. While he is among the most prolific scorers of his era – fourth in goals since he entered the league in 2006-2007 (449), seventh in assists (709), fourth in points (1,158), third in power play goals (164), third in power play points (443), tied for tenth in overtime goals (13), and third in game-winning goals (78) – durability has not been a consistent part of his game. The 993 games in which he played ranks 49th over the same span.
Malkin has appeared in all 12 Penguin games to date and has been his typical productive self, going 5-7-12, and of special note for this game, he leads the Penguins in scoring in road games, going 3-4-7 in seven road contests to date. Malkin is tied for fourth place all-time in goal scoring against the Caps (24), third in assists (47), third in points (71), but is minus-16 (497th of 499 Penguins to appear against the Caps all-time) in 55 games against Washington.
Washington: Dylan Strome
Welcome to the rivalry, Dylan Strome. One could argue for Dylan Strome as a player who should be at least considered most valuable player for the Capitals over their first 14 games. He is tied for second on the team in goals (four), second in assists (eight), second in points (12), tied for second in power play goals (two), second in power play points (seven), is fifth in shooting percentage (16.0; minimum: ten shots), and is third in average ice time among forwards (17:56). He is also averaging 2.15 takeaways per 60 minutes, second among all Caps skaters appearing in at least ten games, and he has taken only one penalty so far this season.
With a $3.5 million cap hit, he might be one of the best bargains in the league in the early going. Caps fans might wish that the $3.5 million was for more than the one year his contract calls for, and if he continues producing at this pace, he will be due a hefty pay raise on his next deal. For the moment, though, Caps fans can enjoy his production, especially on home ice, where he is 3-6-9 in seven games. Overall, his production has been important to team success, the Caps going 2-0-1 when he scored at least one goal and 4-1-2 in the seven games in which he had at least one point. If there is an odd (bordering on the bizarre) fact about his performance to date, it is that in the seven games in which he logged at least 18:04 in ice time, the Caps ae 0-6-1. In the seven games in which he skated less than 18:04, they are 6-1-0. Strome is 1-0-1, minus-1, in six career games against the Penguins.
In the end…
The Caps are on the outside looking in at playoff eligibility. And yes, it is still early, but at least staying close to the playoff eligible teams was one of the objectives for the Caps as they worked toward getting players back from injuries. As of Tuesday afternoon, they are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division with 14 points, one point behind the fourth-place New York Rangers, who have a game in hand on Washington. But Pittsburgh is in a deeper hole – seventh place in the Metro with ten points – and nothing would please Capitals Nation more than helping the Penguins to dig that hole out of which they have to climb a bit deeper. Pittsburgh is coming to Washington in what promises to be an ornery and determined mood, but there is just so much that seems wrong with the Penguins’ game at the moment that one is inclined to “bet the streak” and have the Caps add another loss to it. As if you thought we would prognosticate anything else.
Capitals 5 – Penguins 2