Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 25: Capitals at Kraken, December 1

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Fresh off a 5-1 thumping of the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals head down the road and back across the border to face the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena to open the December portion of their schedule.  The Caps’ offensive barrage, the most goals they scored on the road in a game since beating the New Jersey Devils, 6-3, on October 24th, paled in comparison to the nine goals the Kraken posted in a 9-8 win over the Los Angeles Kings in LA on Tuesday night that extended the Kraken’s winning streak to six games.  That is a new franchise record, eclipsing the five-game winning streak the Kraken recorded in Games 10-14 to end October and begin November.

That outburst against the Kings continued an amazing burst of offense for the Kraken, who have now scored 26 goals in their last four games.  That’s six and a half goals per game, and no, it is not the year 1984 in The Emerald City.  It is not as if the Kraken offense over those four games has been dominated by a select few, either.  Of the 18 skaters to appear over that four-game span, 11 of them have at least one goal, and 17 of them have points.  The one player without a point – forward Karson Kuhlman – played in only one of those four games.

Perhaps the strangest thing to come out of this four-game run is that the leading point-getter is not a name with which Caps fans are likely familiar.   Matty Beniers is 4-5-9, plus-8, over those last four games, not bad in any circumstance, but he has done it averaging just 15:34 in ice time per game.  While he might not be a household name in these parts, Beniers came to the NHL with a solid background, the second-overall pick of the 2021 Entry Draft and the back half of a University of Michigan two-fer at the top of that draft (defenseman Owen Power was taken first overall by the Buffalo Sabres.  Beniers’s recent performance might have jump started his candidacy for the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie.  He leads this year’s class in goals (nine), is second in assists (11), tops in points (20, six more than his nearest competitor – Winnipeg’s Cole Perfetti), tied for first in power play goals (three), fourth in power play points (five), and of 58 rookies with more than five shots on goal, he ranks second in shooting percentage (22.0).  Oddly enough, Seattle’s record is not dominating when Beniers recorded a goal (4-2-1), but they are 8-3-1 when he posted at least one point.  Beniers has never faced the Capitals.

The Kraken seems to be The Wayward Home for Former Capitals, with no fewer than four former Caps to have seen action for Seattle this season – skaters Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, and Daniel Sprong; and goaltender Philipp Grubauer.  Schultz seems to have found a new life with the Kraken.  After going 7-43-50, minus-3, in 120 games over two seasons in Washington, Schultz signed a two-year/$6.0 million deal with Seattle, a deal that has paid off rather well so far.  Schultz leads all Kraken defensemen in points overall (3-13-16), even strength points (3-6-9), and in power play points (0-7-7).  He is the only Seattle defenseman with an overtime goal and one of only two to score an extra-time winner among defensemen in franchise history (Adam Larsson has the other).  He has been on a tear of late, bringing a six-game points streak into Thursday’s contest (2-8-10, plus-8), his ten points over that span tied for most in the league by a defenseman (Winnipeg’s Josh Morrisey is 4-6-10).  Schultz is second among all Seattle skaters in points (2-8-10) in the six-game winning streak for the Kraken.  Schultz is 3-13-16, minus-7, in 20 career games against Washington.

In six years with the Washington Capitals, goaltender Philipp Grubauer rose from something of an afterthought, assumed to have a future as a backup goaltender, to arguable the best backup in the league, and then challenging incumbent number one goaltender Braden Holtby for the top slot, ultimately starting the first two games of the opening round of the 2018 playoffs.  He faltered under the spotlight of the postseason, yielding to Holtby in the third period of Game 2 against Columbus as the Caps went on to win the Stanley Cup, but his postseason struggle did not deprive him of a substantial payday, a three-year/$10.0 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent.  Unfortunately, however, his numbers started to slip a bit once he left DC.  In his six years with the Caps, Grubauer was 43-31-11, 2.29, .923, with six shutouts.  Of 34 goalies in Capitals history to log at least 1,000 minutes, his .923 save percentage ranks first.  But then he went 66-30-10, 2.38, .918, with 12 shutouts in three years with the Avalanche.  Despite finishing third in the voting for the Vezina Trophy in 2020-2021 off a 30-9-1/1.95/.922/seven shutout performance, it was not enough for the Avalanche to extend an offer more acceptable to the free agent than that which he signed with Seattle, a six-year/$35.4 million deal in July 2021. 

Like the rest of the team, Grubauer struggled last season, going 18-31-5, 3.16, .889, with two shutouts.  His goals against average ranked 38th of 48 goalies logging at least 1,500 minutes, and his save percentage ranked dead last in that group.  Further, as a reflection of the struggles of the team around him, only once among 55 appearances did he win as many as three consecutive decisions.  On the other side, he had two brutal stretches, the first running from December 6th through January 12th over which he was 0-6-2, 4,31, ,854; and another from February 9th through March 8th, going 0-8-1, 3.70, .886.  This season has been one of frustration for Grubauer, who was on injured reserve after suffering an injury against Colorado in late October.  Between the injury and otherwise iffy play, Grubauer has been limited to five appearances, going 1-1-1, 3.35, .870, and he has lost the number one spot to Martin Jones (12-4-2, 2.90, .893, one shutout).  He has one appearance since returning from injury, getting his first win of the season in 20-save effort the led the Kraken to a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights last Friday.  In four career appearances against the Caps, Grubauer is 2-1-1, 2.78, .920.

1.  Before the Kraken visited the Los Angeles Kings, they were averaging 3.57 goals per game, tied for sixth in the league in scoring offense.  After “Back to the Eighties” night in LA and a 9-8 win over the Kings, the Kraken saw their scoring offense jump to 3.82 goals per game, third-best scoring offense in the league.

2.  One would not say this often, but good thing this game is in Seattle.  That nine-goal strafing of the Kings in Los Angeles left the Kraken with the top scoring offense in the league in road games – 4.50 goals per game.  In contrast, their 3.25 goals per game at Climate Pledge Arena ranks 17th in home scoring offense.

3.  Again from the “good thing this game is in Seattle file,” while the Kraken are 8-1-1 on the road so far this season (third in the league in points percentage (.850)), they are just 6-4-2 at home (.583/T-15th).

4.  The strange home/road split extends to the power play for the Kraken.  On the road, the power play is at 29.7 percent (fourth in the league), while at home it is just 22.2 percent (T-19th).

5.  What Seattle does do well at home is finish strong.  In 12 home games to date, the Kraken scored 24 goals over the first 40 minutes of games and allowed 25.  In the third period, though, they scored 13 and allowed only eight (tied for sixth-fewest in the league).

1.  The Caps are 30th in the league in points percentage in road games (.333/3-7-2).

2.  Only three teams have fewer wins in road games than the Capitals (three) – Anaheim (two), Chicago (two), and Columbus (one).

3.  Special teams performance on the road has been poor for the Caps. Their power play ranks 30th (13.3 percent), their penalty kill ranks 16th (76.7 percent), and their special teams index – power play plus penalty kill percentages – ranks 26th (90.0).

4.  The Caps have not yet won a one-goal game on the road (0-1-2), one of four teams to have played at least one one-goal game on the road yet to win one (Columbus, Dallas, and Pittsburgh are the others).

5.  The Caps scored first against Vancouver in their 5-1 win on Tuesday night, only the fourth time in 12 tries they scored first on the road (2-2-0); they trailed first eight times (1-5-2).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Seattle: Andre Burakovsky

Has Andre Burakovsky, who left the Washington Capitals after the 2018-2019 season, found a home in Seattle?  Let’s back up a moment.  Burakovsky was traded after that 2018-2019 season to Colorado for a second-round draft pick in 2020 , a third-round draft pick in 2020, and Scott Kosmachuk.  On the Caps’ side, the second-round pick was packaged with another draft pick and sent to San Jose for defenseman Brenden Dillon.  The third-rounder was packaged with a first-round pick (24th overall) and traded to Carolina for the 22nd overall pick, which became Hendrix Lapierre.

But back to Burakovsky.  In 191 games over three seasons with the Avalanche, he posted 61 goals and 150 points with a 17.2 shooting percentage.  Compare that with his tenure in Washington during which he pasted 62 goals, 145 points, and a 12.8 shooting percentage – in 137 more games (391).  He was making progress and at least giving indications he could be a solid offensive contributor if given the responsibility that, frankly, he was not granted in Washington (he averaged 12:45 in ice time per game in DC while getting 15:37 in ice time per game with the Avalanche), although it would not be a stretch to say he skated with superior line mates.  But when his two-year/$9.8 million contract he had with Colorado expired, he was allowed to depart in free agency and was signed by Seattle to a five-year/$27.5 million contract last July 13th. 

Burakovsky is paying early dividends with his new team, suggesting that the third time – or third team – is the charm.  Burakovsky is averaging more than a point per game (9-14-23), although his minus-4 rating is the first time he has found himself as a minus player in nine seasons.  Burakovsky is another of those players whose goal scoring relationship to wins is not impressive (4-2-1 when he posted at least one goal), although the Kraken do better when he records points generally (10-4-2).  And, there is the matter of ice time.  When skating less than 18 minutes, Seattle is 9-2-2, but they are just 5-3-1 when Burakovsky skated more than 18 minutes.  He brins a four-game points streak into this game (5-3-8, plus-1).  Burakovsky is 1-2-3, minus-2, in four career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nick Jensen

The Caps have not done well on the road this season, but Nick Jensen is not high on the list of problem players.  In 12 road games this season, Jensen has the best plus-minus rating (plus-4), has the best even strength goal differential on ice (plus-3), has been charged with only three giveaways (0.73 giveaways per 60 minutes; fewest among Caps defensemen regardless of games played), and taken only one penalty to date while drawing five (the plus-4 net penalties is best on the team on the road).  Even his missed shots are, in their own way, a positive.  All of the 12 shots credited as missed were wide, not over the net, at least giving teammates an opportunity to redirect pucks sent to the net.

And Jensen has been a contributor on offense.  He is one of three Caps defensemen with at least one goal on the road, and his five points in 12 road games (1-4-5) rank second to John Carlson (5-3-8).  He leads all Caps defensemen in even strength points (1-3-4) and is one of two Caps defensemen with a shorthanded point (Carlson has the other one).  And he has done it while averaging 20:23 in ice time over those 12 road games.  And it is not as if his numbers skew that heavily to road performance.  Jensen is 1-4-5, plus-4 overall in 12 road games and 0-5-5, plus-1 in 12 home games.  Jensen has also spread the joy around in terms of divisional opponents.  He is 1-3-4, plus-2, in five games against Metropolitan Division opponents; 0-2-2, even, in eight games against the Atlantic Division; 0-2-2, plus-1, in five games against the Central Division; and 0-2-2, plus-2, in six games against the Pacific Division.

If there is a concern, at least with Jensen’s offense, it is that it tapered off after a hot start.  He was 1-6-7, plus-6, in his first ten games overall, over which the Caps went 5-4-1.  In his next nine games, he was 0-3-3, minus-2, over which Washington went 2-5-2.  And now, Jensen into the matchup with the Kraken without a point and a plus-1 rating over his last five games, over which the Caps are 3-2-0.  Jensen is 0-1-1, plus-2, in two career games against Seattle.

In the end…

The Caps did a lot of things right against Vancouver in the 5-1 win.  The first thing to note is first, as in scoring first.  When they scored first against the Canucks, it broke a four-game streak on the road over which the Caps allowed the first goal.  They did not win any of those games (0-3-1).  Second, there was the matter of leading late.  The win over Vancouver was the first time the Caps took a lead into the third period of a road game since October 29th when they led the Nashville Predators, 1-0, on their way to a 3-0 win.  It broke a streak of six road games in which they were either tied (twice) or trailing (four times).  The Caps were 0-4-2 in those games (three of the losses in regulation were by three or more goals).  In this area, it’s not hard.  You score first, you win more than you lose. You put pressure on teams to open up, creating chances for yourself that could likely force opponents to dig out of a third period hole, and teams trailing after two periods in this league rarely emerge as winners.  After the offensive fireworks these two teams lit in their most recent performances, it could be a low scoring game, putting a premium on getting that first goal and frustrating the other guys.

Capitals 2 – Kraken 1