The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals press on with their season-long six-game road trip with a visit to Vancouver on Tuesday night. They will be facing a Canucks team that had a disastrous start to the 2022-2023 season, but have played much better over the past five weeks. The Caps will be looking to return to the win column after dropping a 5-1 decision to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday in their last outing.
After an 0-5-2 start to the season, the Canucks have righted themselves, going 9-5-1 in 15 games since October 27th. They did it largely through an unrelenting offensive attack that averages a league-best 4.07 goals per game over that 15-game stretch. It has been a balanced attack with 16 skaters posting at least one goal and every one of the 25 skaters to play over that span registering at least one point. Bo Horvat leads the goal scorers over the recent run with 13 in 15 games, a number that also ranks second in the league over that span, trailing only Dallas’ Jason Robertson (16 goals in 15 games).
And as hot as Robertson has been for Dallas, Horvat has been more efficient. His 13 goals have come on 53 shots, a 24.5 shooting percentage that ranks fourth in the league over this period among the 168 skaters to log at least 30 shots on goal. Horvat, who recorded a career high 31 goals last season in 70 games, is well on his way to eclipsing that mark this season with 17 goals in 22 games overall this season. He is already within a hat trick of posting his sixth 20-goal season in his last seven, missing only the 2020-2021 season when he had 19 goals in 56 games in a schedule abbreviated by COVID concerns. He is also on a pace to set other personal career bests. His six power play goals are almost half-way to his career high of 13, set last season. With 72 shots on goal in 22 games, he is on a pace to top the 227 shots on goal he posted in 2018-2019. His 21:01 in ice time per game is a career high, and his 57.5 faceoff winning percentage to date is also a career best. Horvat, despite the offensive numbers he has put up, suggesting he spends a fair amount of time with the puck, has only three giveaways on his record this season. His 0.38 giveaways per 60 minutes are 13th fewest among 518 skaters appearing in at least 15 games. Horvat is 6-7-13, minus-4, in 13 career games against Washington.
Over the last 15 games for the Canucks, four of the nine defensemen to dress have goals. None of them are named Quinn Hughes. But no defenseman has half as many points at Hughes recorded in the 15-game run. He is 0-16-16. No player in the league has more assists with no goals scored over those 15 games. Which is not to say Hughes has been ineffective on offense, despite his no goals on 22 shots. He was particularly effective on the power play where he recorded nine assists in those 15 games, compared to the seven even strength assists he posted. None of this is surprising. Hughes has yet to record a goal this season in 18 games. And it really is not all that surprising in his overall career context. In 223 career games to date over five seasons, Hughes has a total of 19 goals. He is much more the distributor, the “playmaking” defenseman in the offensive end, especially on the power play where about half of his total career assists (167) have been recorded (84). What Hughes most certainly is not is a physical defenseman, not much of a surprise here, either, given his slight stature by NHL standards (5’10/175 pounds). Since he entered the league in 2018-2019, he has the fewest hits-per-60 minutes of any of the 238 defensemen to appear in at least 100 games, his 0.52 hits-per-60 less than half that of Shea Theodore’s 1.05. Hughes is 1-8-9, minus-2, in five career games against the Caps.
Vancouver’s goaltending situation might be said to be “in flux.” On the one hand, there is the goalie that most expected would be the number one netminder for years to come in Thatcher Demko, but he is having a disappointing year (3-9-2, 3.81, .885). Coming into this season, he was a goalie that fans might have thought was on the brink of taking the job by the throat and taking the next step after posting consecutive seasons with a .915 save percentage and last season finishing seventh in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. His taking that next step has not happened. And what has been particularly worrisome about his performance to date this season is how consistently poor it has been. He has yet to post consecutive games in which he stopped 90 or more percent of shots faced. He has yet to earn standings points in consecutive games this season. He allowed four or more goals in nine of 14 appearances and allowed fewer than three only once (he stopped 37 of 38 shots in a 4-1 win over Los Angeles on November 18th. He is just 1-4-1 on home ice, although there is a bit of bad luck in there with his having a .918 save percentage on home ice.
On the other hand, there is Spencer Martin. You would not know it to look at his record before this season, but Martin is making a case to steal the number one goaltending job for the Canucks. In eight appearances this season, Martin is 6-1-1, 3.12, .907. Not sparkling numbers, at least not until one compares them to Demko’s, but not bad. The eight appearances this season is just one short of his career total in the NHL (nine) in two previous seasons with Colorado (who took him in the third round (63rd overall) in the 2013 draft) and the Canucks. It is also worth noting that the season he played in Colorado was the 2016-2017 season, after which he embarked on a minor league journey that took him to the San Antonio Rampage, the Colorado Eagles, the Syracuse Crunch, and the Abbotsford Canucks, as well as the Orlando Solar Bears in the ECHL, before landing in Vancouver for six games last season (3-0-3, 1.74, .950). However, he has had “consistency” issues of a sort similar to those of Demko in that he allowed four or more goals in four of his eight appearances and allowed fewer than three goals only twice. Of relevance to this game, he has not had much work on home ice – two appearances (2-0-0, 3.00, .909). Martin has never faced the Capitals.Vancouver is averaging 3.63 goals per game this season on home ice, the eight-best scoring offense at home in the league, but they are allowing 3.50 goals per game on home ice, the 23rd-ranked scoring defense in the league. Things happen at Rogers Arena.
2. The Canucks have the second-best home power play in the league on home ice (38.5 percent). They also have the worst penalty kill on home ice in the league (65.0 percent). Yup…things happen at Rogers Arena.
3. And when things happen at Rogers Arena, they seem to happen late. Over the first 40 minutes of games on home ice, Vancouver out-scored opponents, 15-14. In the third periods of games, the Canucks scored 14 goals and allowed 14 goals.
4. Of the eight home games played by Vancouver so far, five ended in decisions by three or more goals, the Canucks with a 3-2 record in those games.
5. Vancouver has done a good job of protecting the puck by one measure. Their 6.44 giveaways per 60 minutes are fourth-lowest in the league.The Capitals have had a hard time scoring goals in November. Their 2.46 goals per game for the month is the fourth-worst scoring offense in the league.
2. The Caps have five first period goals in 11 road games, tied for fourth-fewest in the league; their goal differential in the first periods of road games is minus-8. Only Arizona (minus-9) and Nashville (minus-9) are worse.
3. Washington is 30th in the league in faceoff winning percentage on the road (45.7 percent).
4. Only the Anaheim Ducks have fewer empty net goals this season (none) than the Caps (one).
5. The Caps have never shut out the Canucks in Vancouver in 50 tries.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Vancouver: J.T. Miller
Last summer, the future of forward J.T. Miller was a topic worth pondering. About to embark on the last year of a five-year/$26.5 million contract he originally signed with Tampa Bay before being traded to Vancouver in June 2019, he was coming off a career year in goals (32), assists (67) and points (99) that made him a potentially valuable trading asset and an asset that would be attractive to any number of teams. But the suspense of “Where Will J.T. Land” ended on September 2nd when he signed a seven-year/$56.0 million extension with Vancouver, a deal with no-movement clauses in each year of the contract, according to capfriendly.com.
Miller is not putting up points at the same pace this season (1.09 per game) that he did last season (1.24), but he is hardly giving reason that the deal was without merit. He started a bit sluggishly, going five games with just one point after posting a goal and an assist on Opening Night. But then, he rolled off a seven-game points streak (5-5-10, plus-2), had the streak broken, then peeled off another six straight games with a point (3-3-6, minus-5) that he takes into the game against Washington.
Unfortunately for the Canucks, his contributions have not been sufficient to build winning success. Vancouver is just 4-5-1 in the ten games in which he has goals, 9-7-1 in the 17 games in which he has points. They are just 2-4-0 in games in which Miller has a power play goal, and Miller has just one game-winning goal to date, that coming last Saturday in the Canucks’ 5-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. Miller is 5-10-15, minus-6, in 28 career games against the Caps.
Washington: T.J. Oshie
Twenty-three games into the season, and the fears of Caps fans with respect to one player have been realized. When T.J. Oshie is in the lineup, good things generally happen. He is second on the team in points per game (0.75), he is one of four players with a plus rating this season (plus-2), he is tied for second in power play goals (two), he is third on the team in shooting percentage (15.8; minimum: 10 shots on goal), he is third among forwards in hits-per-60 minutes (10.14; minimum,: ten games played), only Alex Ovechkin has more first goals (three) than he does (two), he leads all skaters in net penalties per 60 minutes (plus-1.19). Most important, the Caps are 7-5-0 in the games in which he played.
“The games in which he played.” There is the problem. Oshie has taken the ice 12 times in 23 games so far this season. Oshie suffered a lower body injury on October 29th against the Nashville Predators and left the game after two shifts and 1:51 in ice time. He missed 11 games, over which the Caps went 2-6-3 and scored only 27 goals (2.45 per game). Missed games. In eight seasons with the Caps, including this season, Oshie missed 89 of 558 games, appearing in 84 percent of the games on the regular season schedule. Of those 89 missed games, Oshie missed 49 over last season and this, a span of 105 games of the regular season schedule.
Although Alex Ovechkin is the engine that drives the Caps, one could make the case that Oshie is the beating heart of this team, a player whose feisty, give-no-quarter style seems to rub off on his teammates when he is in the lineup (the Caps are 290-129-50 when he was in the lineup over his eight seasons with the Caps, a 51-23-9/111-point pace per 82 games). It doesn’t hurt that he is also a talented player and an important offensive contributor. If the Caps are going to make a run in the last 60 games of the season (now 59), Oshie is going to have to be a regular fixture in the lineup. He is 9-16-25, plus-3, in 33 career games against Vancouver.
In the end…
The Caps lost a game on Saturday against the Devils in which their underlying numbers might have predicted a win, and that followed consecutive wins. They will face a Vancouver team on a three-game winning streak, but two of those wins were by one goal, one of them in overtime. It suggests a close contest, but the Caps need to be getting two points out of “close contests” if they are to climb back into the thick of things in the playoff race.
Capitals 4 – Canucks 2