The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals reach the 20-game mark of the season a wounded team that is struggling more, perhaps, than at any time since they last missed the playoffs, in 2013-2014. They fought hard to succeed in the face of season-opening absences among top players, going 5-4-0 in their first nine games, capped with a 3-0 shutout of the Nashville Predators on October 29th. That looks like the high point of their season to date. Since losing their next game, 3-2 in a Gimmick to the Carolina Hurricanes on Hallowe’en, their season has turned into one long “trick” with barely a treat in sight, going 2-5-3 since that win over the Predators. And now, after a winless three-game road trip (0-2-1), they return home on Saturday night, but catching no break in a brutal stretch of the schedule. The Caps get to host the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.
After struggling with might have been a case of “Stanley Cup Hangover” to start the season, going 4-4-1 in their first nine games, the Avs come to town with a 5-1-0 record over their last six games. The have done it on both sides of the puck, their 4.17 goals per game tied with Vegas for the second-best scoring offense over that span and the 2.17 goals allowed per game tied with New Jersey for fifth-best in the league.
Colorado has been led on offense by a trio of players who have ten or more points apiece over the six games. Mikko Rantanen leads the threesome with seven goals and 14 points. The eight-year veteran is among the least noisy scorers in the league. But don’t be fooled by what might seem a lack of attention to his production. He is well on his way to posting his third straight 30-plus goal scoring season (and fourth of his career) with 11 goals in 15 games overall. He seems a sure bet to going 7-for-7 in 20-plus goal seasons in the seven full seasons he has played in the NHL, including this one. And, with those 11 goals and 25 points overall, he is on a 60-goal, 137-point pace that would obliterate the career highs of 36 goals and 92 points he set last season.
Rantanen does seem to have a slowdown in his future, though. The 11 goals on 47 shots works out to a 23.4 shooting percentage, which would be difficult to sustain, even if he does have history of shooting efficiency (five of his last six seasons at 15.0 percent or higher with a high of 17.8 percent in 2019-2020). He has been a streaky scorer this season to date. He posted points in hi first four games (3-6-9), including a three-point and a four-point game. He followed that with a four-game streak without a point, but he then rolled on a six-game points streak (8-8-16), including a pair of four-point games and a three-point game before being shutout in his last game against Carolina. If there is a plus for the Caps here, it is that his home-road scoring split is heavily weighted to home scoring (9-11-20 in seven home games and 2-3-5 in eight road games). Rantanen is 6-6-12, minus-3, in nine career games against Washington.
It is not surprising that Nathan MacKinnon is a member of the double-digit scoring trio over the last six games for Colorado. Where Rantanen has been the goal scorer, MacKinnon has been the set up man with 11 assists among the 12 points in his last six games. MacKinnon was the prize of a loaded 2013 Entry Draft, the first player taken overall. He had “future hall of famer” written in his journal from the moment he was selected by the Avalanche, but it took a while for him to start fulfilling his vast promise and be included in any discussion of best players in the game. He posted 24 goals and 63 points as an 18-year old rookie in 2013-2014, good enough for him to make the first team of the league’s all-rookie team and to win the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie.
But MacKinnon didn’t match either his rookie goal or point total in any of the following three seasons. But in 2017-2018 he exploded for 39 goals and 97 points and followed that up with consecutive 35-plus goal/90-plus point seasons, the only player to pull off that double in all three of those seasons. Since that 2017-2018 season through 15 games this season, MacKinnon has 171 goals (seventh among all skaters over that span), 295 assists (third), and 466 points (third). His plus-97 rating is tied for sixth through Thursday night’s games. He has only four goals in 15 games so far this season, but his 20 assists lead the league. It seems as if he is due to break out in goal scoring, his four goals on 74 shots (5.4 percent) being very un-MacKinnon like. Caps fans it does not happen on Saturday. MacKinnon is 6-12-18, minus-1, in 15 career games against the Caps.
Cale Makar is the third member of the double-digit points trio. Where Rantanen has been the goal scorer, and MacKinnon has been the playmaker, Makar has been Makar. Three goals, most among Colorado defensemen over the six-game run, seven assists, leading all defensemen, and a plus-8 rating, tied with fellow defenseman Devon Toews for the team lead. In only his fourth NHL season and just having turned 24 years old in late October, he is arguably the top offensive defenseman in the game. His 193 goals over his four NHL seasons lead all defenseman over that span, his 147 assists rank sixth, and his 198 points rank third. He is the only defenseman to have played in more than five games over the last four years to average more than a point per game (1.04), his 18 power play goals are tied for first, and his 85 power play points rank second among all league defenseman over the four-year period. Add a league-leading 14 game-winning goals over that span, and a 10.5 shooting percentage (one of two defensemen playing in at least 50 games to top 10 percent), and it is a solid case to make for Makar as the top offensive defenseman in the league. He already has points in 11 of 15 games overall this season, and the Avs are 8-2-1 in those games. Six of those games are multi-point games. In four career games against the Caps, Makar is 0-2-2, minus-4.The 5-1-0 record that Colorado brings to town since November 4th is the second-best record in the league over that span, trailing only that of the New Jersey Devils (6-0-0, part of an 11-game winning streak on which the Devils find themselves).
2. Although the Avs have that second-best scoring offense in the league over their last six games, their scoring seems a bit unbalanced. Colorado had 24 skaters appear over those six games, but ten have goals, and 14 have points, which seems a bit light.
3. Colorado has a 33.3 percent power play over their last six games, which is actually less efficient than their overall league leading 36.7 percent power play for the season to date.
4. The Avalanche have three wins over their last six games settled by three or more goals, the most three-plus goal wins over that span.
5. In five of their six games in the 5-1-0 run, Colorado scored first in five of them, winning four times.The Gimmick loss to St. Louis on Thursday night broke a streak of three three-goal losses for the Caps in their last three defeats (4-1 to Pittsburgh, 6-3 to Tampa Bay, and 5-2 to Florida).
2. The Caps went to extra time for the third time this season on Thursday night in St. Louis. They have lost all three times, twice in the Gimmick.
3. The loss to the Blues was the sixth time in 19 games that the Caps scored four or more goals and the first time they lost in such games.
4. Washington returns home having lost their last five games on the road (0-3-2). They have won two of their last three contests on home ice, scoring five goals in each of the two wins.
5. The Caps have allowed three or more goals in seven of nine home games this season and only one goal in the other two.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Colorado: Alexandar Georgiev
When Darcy Kuemper left the Avalanche in free agency following their Stanley Cup win last season and replaced him with free agent Alexandar Georgiev (three years/$10.2 million) , some might have viewed the exchange as a down grade and a harbinger of a platoon system with Pavel Francouz. So far, Georgiev has been lights out (quite literally, if one is speaking of red goal lights). In ten appearances, Georgiev is 7-2-1, 2.70, .924. Those goals against average and save percentage numbers are the best of his six-year career to date.
Not only has Georgiev been effective in goal for his new club to date, he has been so in the face of heavy shot volumes. He has faced 35.3 shots per game to date, seven times topping 35 shots faced and twice facing over 40 shots in a game. His even strength save percentage (.942) ranks fifth among 62 goalies appearing in at least five games.
Georgiev’s home/road split for the season will not give comfort to Caps fans hoping to start their three-game home stand on a positive note. In five home games he is 3-1-1, 3.01, .905. However, in five road games, Georgiev is 4-1-0, 2.38, .938. In four of those five games he posted save percentages of .920 or better, three times over .940. He faced 35 or more shots on goal in four of those five road games, including a season-high 46 shots in a 3-2 win in New York over the Rangers on October25th. Georgiev is 2-5-1, 3.62, .882 in eight career appearances against the Caps.
Washington: Darcy Kuemper
Charlie Lindgren got his chance to face a former team on Thursday night when he took the ice in goal against the St. Louis Blues. Now, Darcy Kuemper seems likely to get his chance to face his old Colorado squad on Saturday night. Kuemper has appeared in 14 games to date for the Caps, and his season so far seems to divide into two seven-game pieces. In the first he went 4-3-0, 2.47, .919, capping the seven-game segment with a 3-0 shutout of the Nashville Predators on October 29th. In seven games since, Kuemper is 1-5-1, 3.02, .902, and he suffered his first instance of being pulled from a contest, lasting 16 minutes and change against the Tampa Bay Lightning, giving up four goals on nine shots in a 6-3 loss on November 13th.
In those first seven games, Kuemper’s even strength save percentage of .932 ranked 13th among 54 goalies to appear in three or more games to that point. In his last seven games since October 30th, his even strength save percentage of .908 ranks 30th among 53 goalies to appear in three or more games over that span. His overall home/road split is not all that confidence inspiring going into Saturday’s game. While he has an unfortunate win-loss record on the road (1-5-1 in seven games), he does have a save percentage of .921, which ranks 14th among 55 goalies to appear in at least three road games. At home, Kuemper is 4-3-0, but his .899 save percentage ranks 28th of 46 goalies to appear in at least three home games. He has allowed three of more goals in five of the seven appearances he made at Capital One Arena so far this season. Kuemper is 4-1-2, 1.90, .928, with three shutouts in nine career meetings against Colorado.
In the end…
The Caps recent history of injuries is well-known to Caps fans. But it is not as if the Avalanche haven’t felt some pain. Gabriel Landeskog (knee) and Valeri Nichushkin (ankle) are and will be out for extended periods. Landeskog has yet to play this season, and Nichushkin was on a blazing start through seven games (7-5-12, plus-1) before he went down. But the champs are the champs for a reason; they are deep. Deep in ways the Caps are not so that on paper, the Avs are still the better team. But the Caps are not without weapons, and they are a veteran team hungry to end their recent slump. It could make for an interesting back-and-forth contest.
Capitals 5 – Avalanche 3