Friday, December 02, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 26: Capitals at Flames, December 3

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals took on one of the hottest teams in the league on Thursday night, and they could not cool them off.  The Caps gave up a late game-tying goal before losing seven seconds into overtime to the Seattle Kraken, 3-2, to allow the Kraken to extend their franchise-record winning streak to seven games.  The Caps take the ice on Saturday night in the fourth game of their six-game road trip when they face the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome, trying to get back on a winning track.

The Caps will be facing the Flames for the second time in just over a week, having shut out the Flames, 3-0, in Washington on November 25th.  Things have not improved for Calgary since that loss in DC, losing two of three decisions to fall to 10-10-3 for the season.  The Flames will be playing the third game of a five-game home stand when the Caps come to town.  One would think the home cooking would do the Flames good, but they split their first two games on the home stand, thumping the Florida Panthers, 6-2, and following that up with a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.  The loss to the Canadiens snapped a three-game home wining streak, but the Flames remain one of the more frustrating teams on home ice this season, their 7-5-1 record ranking 18th in the league in points percentage (.577).

Calgary has not suffered an offensive drought on home ice, their 3.38 goals per game tied for 13th in the league in scoring offense. However, their scoring defense of 3.15 goals allowed per game ranks 18th in the league and is a far cry from the third-ranked scoring defense on home ice they had last season (2.39 goals allowed per game).

The defensive problems might not start in goal, but they end up there, and Flames netminder Jacob Markstrom evaluated his recent performance succinctly after the Flames’ 2-1 loss to the Canadiens on Thursday… “I just suck at hockey right now.”  It did not help that he gave up the game’s first goal just 13 seconds into the contest after wandering far from the crease to try to foil a breakaway. 

It has been a season of frustration for last season’s runner-up in Vezina Trophy voting.  Last season, Markstrom put together a career year in his second year with the Flames – 37-15-9, 2.22, .922, with a league-leading nine shutouts.  So far this season, he is 8-6-2, 2.97, .889, and he has yet to record a shutout.  He has been barely more effective on home ice.  While his 6-3-1 win/loss record is respectable, his 2.89 goals against average at home ranks 21st of 39 goalies with at least 250 minutes played on home ice, and his .893 save percentage ranks 29th in that group.  And he has been consistently inefficient in stopping pucks.  His 11 games this season with save percentages under .900 are tied for most in the league with Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick.  Six of those 11 instances were on home ice, and overall, he is 3-5-2 (one no-decision) in those games.  In each of the three wins, his offense bailed him out, scoring four or more goals in each.  Markstrom is 1-8-1, 3.20, .896 in ten career appearances against the Caps and stopped 22 of 25 shots in the 3-0 loss to the Caps last month.

The Flames lost two important pieces from last season when Johnny Gaudreau signed a seven-year/$68.25 million contact with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Flames traded Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers. Calgary tried to fill the holes by signing Nazem Kadri to a seven-year/$49 million contract, and obtaining Jonathan Huberdeau from the Panthers as part of the return in the Tkachuk trade.  Neither have been quite the player they were last season.

Kadri, who was 28-59-87, plus-13, with the Colorado Avalanche in his walk year last season, is 8-7-15, minus-7, in 23 games overall with the Flames this season.  His goal scoring has been consistent in terms of its efficiency, his eight goals tied for second on the club and his 11.3 shooting percentage matching last season’ mark.  His rate performance in goal scoring has not been bad to date.  His 1.2 goals per 60 minutes through 23 games matches his goal scoring rate from last season.  It is in assists where his performance has dropped significantly, perhaps an indication that not all is his doing, that there has not been enough “finish” elsewhere on the roster.  His 1.1 assists pre 60 minutes ranks in the bottom half of his career results and are far fewer than the career-high 2.6 assists per 60 minutes his posted with the Avs last season with what was a roster deeper in scoring talent than his current club.

Strangely for a player on whom the team depends for offense to be translated into wins, the Flames are just 3-3-1 in the seven games in which Kadri has goals this season and 6-4-1 in games in which he recorded at least one point.  The team has been more successful when he’s been feisty, going 4-1-0 when he drew at least one penalty.  Kadri has been closer to a point a game player on home ice, though, going 5-6-1, minus-1, at the Saddledome, and the Flames are 5-2-1 when he recorded at least one point.  Of more concern with respect to this game is that Kadri will be dragging a seven-game streak without a point into the contest, over which the Flames are 3-3-1.  In 25 career games against the Caps, Kadri is 8-9-17, minus-1.

If Kadri has been something less than expected, Jonathan Hubedeau has been a disappointment to date.  Nothing could be more of a change than the change in locale Huberdeau made in going from south Florida to Alberta, Canada.  Except his performance last year to this.  With the Panthers last season, Huberdeau tied a career high in goals (30), led the league with a career-high 85 assists, set a career-high in points with 115, posted a career-high plus-35 rating, and recorded a career-high seven game-winning goals.  This season, he is 4-9-13, plus-5, in 20 games (he missed three games to a foot injury), his four goals tied for seventh on the club, and he has only seven even strength points, tied for sixth on the club.  Perhaps the strangest number of all on his resume this season is “17:19,” that being his ice time per game.  It is more than two minutes less than he skated last year in Florida (19:25) and his lowest ice time per game since 2014-2015, when he skated 16:45 a game for the Panthers.  His ice time has picked up of late, averaging 18:13 over his last seven games, and it has been accompanied by an improvement in performance (2-3-5, plus-5).  That performance has not been tied to team success, the Flames going just 3-3-1 in those games.  Huberdeau is 7-17-24, minus-2, in 26 career games against the Caps.

1.  Need a starting point for the Flames’ woes?  Try special teams.  Last season their 22.9 percent power play ranked tenth in the league, their 83.2 percent penalty kill ranked sixth, and their special teams index of 106.1 ranked sixth.  This year, the power play ranks 24th (18.9 percent), their penalty kill ranks 13th (79.5 percent), and their special teams index ranks 17th (98.4).

2.  Home ice has not helped special teams.  Last year, the power play ranked sixth on home ice (25.2 percent), the penalty kill ranked second (88.3 percent), and the special teams index ranked third (113.5).  This season, the power play on home ice ranks 25th (18.2 percent), the power play ranks 12th (82.4 percent), and the special teams index ranks 19th (100.2).

3.  The Flames do a good job of holding down enemy shots on goal, averaging 27.8 shots allowed on goal per game, fifth-lowest in the league.

4.  Calgary leads the league in first period goals scored on home ice (15).  They are also tied for worst in the league in allowing first period goals with Minnesota (17).  Don’t tune in late, you might miss some fun.

5.  Calgary is tied for third in the league in 5-on-5 goals scored on home ice (31, with Columbus).

1.  Last year, the Caps were 6-19-4 in games in which they scored two or fewer goals.  So far this season... 0-10-3.  Then again, they are 10-1-1 when scoring three or more.

2.  Of the 23 skaters to dress for the Caps in road games, 19 have points.  Connor McMichael, Sonny Milano, Connor Brown, and Matt Irwin have been shutout, but they have only 20 road games played among them.

3.  Of Capitals appearing in at least ten of the 13 road games played, Garnet Hathaway leads the team in credited hits per 60 minutes (12.53).  He also leads all forwards in blocked shots per 60 minutes (5.89), and is third in takeaways per 60 minutes (2.21).

4.  T.J. Oshie leads all Caps appearing in more than one game in penalties drawn per 60 minutes (2.89). He also leads the team in penalties taken per 60 minutes (2.89).

5.  John Carlson has struggled on the road. He has the worst on-ice goal differential at even strength (minus-9).  Only four skaters in the league are worse on the road (Ryan Strome (minus-14), Torey Krug (minus-13), John Klingberg (minus-11), and Frank Vatrano (minus-10)).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Calgary: MacKenzie Weegar

In six seasons with the Florida Panthers, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar was a feel-good story.  A seventh-round (206th overall) pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, the lowest drafted player in that draft to appear in the NHL to date, he grew into a dependable offensive contributor from the blue line, posting 27 goals and 121 points in 306 games with the Panthers, a career in Florida that culminate with a career best 8-36-44, plus-40 scoring line last season.  But when Matthew Tkachuk became available in a possible trade, he was packaged with Jonathan Huberdeau, Cole Schwindt, and lottery protected 2025 first round to Calgary for Tkachuk and a 2025 fourth-round draft pick.

The change in scenery has not gone well for Weegar.  In 23 games to date, he is 0-6-6, plus-4.  Not awful, but it slammed to a halt the momentum he built as a player whose career until this year had been one of consistent year-to-year improvement in offensive production.  What is worse, half of that meager offensive output came in the team’s first three games this season in which he had a pair of assists in a 5-3 win on Opening Night, and another assist in Game 3, in a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.  If there is any positive to be gleaned from his performance to date that is relevant to this game, five of his six points have been recorded on home ice.

Weegar has also been unproductive with heavier workloads.  In nine games in which he skated more than 21 minutes, he has no points, and the Flames are 2-4-3, 1-2-1 at home.  In ten career games against the Caps, he is 0-2-2, minus-1.

Washington: Alex Ovechkin

The Capitals have an Alex Ovechkin problem.  Not in his performance, at least when he performs.  Ovechkin has goals in 11 of the 25 games played so far for the Caps, and the team is 7-2-2 in those games.  But when he his held without a goal, the Caps are 3-9-2. That just is not going to cut it; the team needs to be more than Ovechkin lighting the lamp to win games.  That he has been streaky in goal scoring, when coupled with the relationship of his goal scoring to Caps success, means neither he nor the club has been able to generate consistent, durable momentum of success.   

For instance, he started the season without a goal in his first three games, the Caps going 1-2-0.  That was followed by an 11-game run over which Ovechkin scored eight goals, and the Caps were 5-4-2, not a great record, but better.  Then there was a four-game streak without a goal, the Caps going 1-3-0.  Over his last seven games he has five goals, and the Caps are 3-2-2.  The problem is worse on the road.  Washington has yet to win a road game in which Ovechkin failed to record a goal (0-6-1), while they are 3-1-2 when he did light the lamp.  If there is a team against which he might add to his goal total, it would be Calgary.  Ovechkin is 15-16-31, plus-3, in 22 career games against Calgary, 6-8-14 in 11 games on the road against the Flames.

In the end…

The Caps are to get back into the playoff hunt, they are going to have to do better than alternating mini-winning and losing streaks.  They have yet to win more than two consecutive games this season and have not yet won consecutive games on the road.  They do show some signs of life recently, though, going 3-1-1 in their last five games, which is their best five-game stretch since they went 4-1-0 in Games 3-7 in October.  They will get a chance to start another winning streak and extend a points streak to three games when they visit the Flames.  As for this game, if this season’s brief history is a guide, the Caps need three or more to win. Let’s go with that.

Capitals 3 – Flames 2