Saturday, December 10, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 30: Capitals at Jets, December 11

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals suddenly find themselves in uncharted territory as they head west once more, this time to take on the Winnipeg Jets in the first of a two game road trip.  What they have packed in their carry-ons for the trip is a three-game winning streak, their first of the season, after dispatching the Seattle Kraken, 4-1, on Friday night in Washington.

Winnipeg will pose a stiff challenge for the Caps as they try to extend their winning streak.  Since opening the season with a 2-3-0 record, the Jets are 16-4-1 since October 24th, tied for second with the Vegas Golden Knights in standings points over that span (33) and third in points percentage (.786).  While their offense has been good over those 21 games (3.57 goals per game/ninth in scoring offense), it is their defense and goaltending that have excelled, the 2.24 goals allowed per game over that span being the third best scoring defense in the league and best in the Western Conference.

Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is re-establishing himself as one of the elite goalies in the league.  The winner of the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in 2019-2020 and the fourth-place finisher in Trophy voting in 2020-2021, he had an off season last year, going 29-27-10, 2.97, .910, with four shutouts after going 55-38-8, 2.58, .920, with ten shutouts in the two previous seasons combined.  Perhaps it was a product of workload –as much shots faced as minutes played.  Last season, Hellebuyck finished second among all goalies in minutes played (3,903; 28 fewer minutes than Nashville’s Juuse Saros), but he led the league in shots faced (2,155) and saves (1,962).  It was not surprising that he led the league’s goalies in goals allowed (193, 16 more than Columbus’ Elvis Merzlikins).

This season, despite a heavy workload, Hellebuyck leads all goalies in wins overall (14), is third in goals against average (2.24; minimum: 500 minutes played), is fourth in save percentage (.932), and is tied for fist in shutouts (three, with Detroit’s Ville Husso).  But while his overall numbers are excellent, his performance on home ice has been incredible – 9-2-0, 1.36, .956, with three shutouts in 11 appearances.  Only once in those 11 appearances has Hellebuyck allowed more than two goals, stopping 24 of 27 shots in a 4-1 loss to Toronto on October 22nd.  He allowed two or fewer goals in his last nine games on home ice.  ellebuyck i

Odd Hellebuyck fact: Over the last four seasons, including this one, no goalie has played more minutes without having been charged with a penalty (9,775 minutes going into this game).  He is 4-3-2, 2.19, .929, with one shutout in nine career appearances against the Capitals.

Josh Morrisey might be coming into his own after seven years in the NHL that did not seem to live up to his lofty status as a draft pick (13th overall by the Jets in 2013).  In his first six full seasons in the league (he played in one game in 2015-2016, his first NHL experience), he was a consistent, if not particularly high-volume scorer from the blue line.  In the first five of those six seasons, he never reached the ten-goal mark, but he did record 20 more points in all of them with a high of 31 in consecutive seasons (2018-2019 and 2019-2020).  Last year, he took a step up, posting a career high 12 goals in 79 games to go along with his career high 173 shots on goal and career high 23:40 in ice time per game.

This year, Morrisey has gone up another rung on the performance ladder with a 5-25-30, plus-11, scoring line through 26 games played.  He might not be able to sustain the goal scoring pace, given an 11.9 shooting percentage to date (five points better than his career best).  What he has done this season to improve his offensive numbers is provide dependable power play support, his 11 power play points leading all Jets defensemen and bringing his career high of 15 power play points posted last season into range.  His home/road offensive splits look balanced, but they do have different characteristics.  In 13 road games, Morrisey is 1-15-16, plus-9; while in 13 home games he is 4-10-14, plus-2.  Morrisey has not gone consecutive games without a point so far this season and brings a four-game points streak into this game (0-5-5).  He is 1-0-1, minus-2, in seven career games against Washington.

Mark Scheifele might not be counted among the elite scorers in the NHL, but he has been solid, dependable, and consistent in his 12 years in Winnipeg.  In the previous seven seasons leading into this one, only twice did he record fewer than 29 goals and twice topped 30 (32 in 2016-2017 and 38 in 2018-2019.  In five of the last six seasons, he recorded more than 40 assists, and in each of his last seven seasons he topped 60 points.  His consistency has been a major factor in his high ranking in several statistical categories in franchise history – third in goals (245), second in assists (355), third in points (600), second in power play goals (64), fifth in power play points (145), first in overtime goals (12), fourth in game-winning goals (36).

This season so far adds another year to his record of consistent production.  Through 26 games played, Scheifele leads the team in goals (15), is fifth in points, is third in power play goals (four), is fifth in power play points (six), is fourth in game-winning goals (two), leads the team in shooting percentage (21.4), and leads all forwards in ice time per game (21:01).  He has been especially productive at home, going 9-6-15 and has five multi-point games in 13 contests in Winnipeg.  Overall, the Jets have lost just once in 11 games in which Scheifele had a goal and are 14-1-0 when he recorded a point.  He comes into this game 5-4-9, plus-5, in his last seven games overall and 4-2-6, plus-3, in his last four home games.  Scheifele is 8-6-14, plus-2, in 16 career games against the Caps.

1.  The Jets are second in the league in scoring defense on home ice (1.85 goals allowed per game), trailing only Boston (1.67).

2.  Winnipeg’s penalty kill is best in the league at home (90.5 percent), and they have had to deploy the penalty kill just 2.38 times per game at home, tied (with the Caps) for second-fewest in the league (St. Louis: 2.00).  No team has allowed fewer power play goals at home than the Jets (three in 13 games).

3.  If the Jets have something to exploit, it might be their early offense.  In 13 home games they have only seven goals scored in the first periods of games (only four teams have scored fewer) and an “even” goal differential in first periods.

4.  Winnipeg has the second-best home record by winning percentage when trailing first in games – 4-2-0/.667.  Only Boston is better – 3-0-1/.750.

5.  Blowouts have been common in Winnipeg so far.  Of their 13 home games, ten were decided by three or more goals, the Jets winning seven of them.  Worth noting – all of the Jets’ losses on home ice to date have been by three or more goals.

1.  The two empty net goals against Seattle on Friday was the second straight game in which the Caps recorded two empty netters and the tenth time they posted two empty net goals in franchise history.  It was the first time they did it in consecutive games, and it was the second time they posted two ENG in two games in the same season.  The first time was last year, when the Caps had a pair of empty netters in a 5-2 win over Winnipeg on December 17, 2021; and the second instance was when the Caps beat Pittsburgh, 6-3, on April 9, 2022.

2.  Since November 23rd, the Caps are 6-2-1, tied for third in wins over that period, tied for third in points (13), and fifth in points percentage (.722).

3.  Over that nine-game span, the Caps have the second-best scoring defense (2.22 goals allowed per game), trailing only Toronto (1.50).

4.  Washington’s 87.0 percent penalty kill over those nine games is tied for third-best in the league (with Pittsburgh).

5.  The Caps have finished games well over this stretch, posting a plus-5 third period goal differential over those nine games.  The plus-5 goal differential corresponds to the five empty net goals the Caps scored, most in the league over that span.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Winnipeg: Nate Schmidt

Capitals fans will certainly remember Nate Schmidt, the persistently cheerful defenseman who spent his first four seasons with the Capitals before moving on to the Vegas Golden Knights in June 2017 in the expansion draft.  After spending three seasons with Vegas, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in October 2020 for a third-round draft pick in 2022.  After one season with the Canucks, he was on the move again, traded to Winnipeg another third round draft pick in 2022.

Upon leaving Washington, Schmidt settled into a role as a mid-level contributor on the offensive side of the puck.  In four of five seasons since leaving DC and coming into this season, he posted more than 30 points four times for three teams.  He has also been logging significant minutes in those tree stops, averaging more than 20 minutes per game in each of his last seven seasons, including this one (21:12 per game overall) while not averaging as many as 20 minutes per game in any of his four seasons in Washington. 

Schmidt’s performance on offense to date this season (3-3-6, plus-7, in 26 games) is lagging his performance in recent seasons, although the Jets have been successful when he has produced, winning all three-game when he scored a goal and posting a 5-0-0 record when he recorded at least one point.  His production has picked up recently, though.  In his last eight games he is 1-3-4, plus-6, although is ice is down (18:41 per game).  Fun Schmidt fact – since he came into the league in 2013-2014, Schmidt is one of two defensemen to appear in at least 500 games and log 200 or fewer penalty minutes (100 PIMs in 553 games; Jaccob Slavin has 74 PIMs in 534 games).  In seven career games against the Caps, Schmidt is 2-3-5, minus-2.

Washington: Charlie Lindgren

When Darcy Kuemper went down with an upper body injury in the second period of a 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on December 3rd, one might have been forgiven for thinking things could not be worse for the Caps (count us among that group), given all the injuries they had already sustained this season.  Add to that the fact that the team was going to put the goaltending responsibilities on the shoulders of a goalie who, coming into this season, started just 28 games over six seasons (half of those in 2017-2018 with the Montreal Canadiens) with a record of 15-12-2, 2.74, .913, with two shutouts.  And even that record was inflated somewhat by his posting a 5-0-0, 1.22, .958 record with the St. Louis Blues last season.

But it might have been what the Caps saw in his work last season that convinced them to sign Lindgren to a three-year/$3.3 million contract last July.  His work since Kuemper’s injury seems to validate, at least for the moment, the thinking of the Caps’ front office.  After stopping seven of nine shots in 22 minutes of what was more or loss mop-up duty against Calgary, Lindgren has been impressive, going 3-0-0, 1.34, .953.  It is a small population of games played, but he is tied for the league lead in wins since his three-game winning streak started, leads the league in goals against average (minimum: 100 minutes), and leads the league in save percentage.  Just as impressive are the teams against which he posted this record, holding the explosive Edmonton Oilers to two goals and holding Seattle, the league’s eighth-ranked offense, to a single goal after doing the same to the Philadelphia Flyers.  The skaters in front of him have done their job, not allowing more than 30 shots in any of the three wins, but Lindgren has stepped up in a big way to fill a hole that the Caps might not have been able to climb out of.  Lindgren has never faced the Jets.

In the end…

The Caps will see more than a few familiar faces with the Jets.  In addition to Schmidt, the Caps are likely to see Brenden Dillon and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby.  The pleasantries will end there, these being two teams that care not for one another.  In 27 meetings since 2011-2012, when the Jets moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta, they have combined for 522 penalty minutes (263 for the Caps, 259 for the Jets) and 176 power plays (86 for the Caps, 990 for the Jets).  The ability of the Caps to pierce the effective penalty kill of the Jets might be where the result of this game will be found.

Capitals 3 – Jets 2