Wednesday, December 14, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 32: Stars at Capitals, December 15

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

After a successful, history-making two-game road trip, the Washington Capitals return home to Capital One Arena on Thursday night to face the Dallas Stars.  The Caps will go into the game riding a season-best five-game winning streak, while the Central Division-leading Stars arrive in Washington as winners in three of their last four games, including an impressive 4-1 win in New Jersey over the Devils on Tuesday night in their most recent contest.

This will be the third game of a five-game road trip for the Stars, who as of Wednesday morning are tied for the eighth-best record in the league on the road in points (8-5-2/18 points) and tied for ninth in points percentage on the road (.600).

Dallas’ success on the road is built on taking care of both ends of the ice, their scoring offense (3.53 goals per game) and scoring defense (2.67 goals allowed per game) each ranked in the top-ten in the league on the road (seventh and tied for sixth, respectively). 

This has been a breakout season for Jason Robertson in goal scoring, so it is no surprise that he is tied for the team lead in goals scored on the road this season (eight).  But don’t sleep on Joe Pavelski, with whom Robertson is tied for the team lead. What is unusual about Pavelski’s goal scoring so far this season is that he has eight road goals out of a total of ten in 29 games.  With eight goals in 15 road games, Pavelski is on a pace to finish with 22 goals on the road, which would tie his career high set with the San Jose Sharks in 2013-2014.  Paveslki’s road goal total includes a hat trick in Montreal against the Canadiens in a 5-2 win on October 22nd. 

He has slowed down of late, though, with one goal (his only point) in his last five road games after consecutive games over which he had two goals and five points.  It matters.  Dallas is 4-1-1 in the five road games in which Pavelski had goals and is 5-1-1 on the road when he posted at least one point.  When Pavelski was shutout in goals, the Stars were 4-4-1, and they were 3-4-1 when he was held without a point.  Overall, Pavelski has been cold of late; he carries an eight-game streak without a goal into this contest, although he does have five assists in three of those games, the Stars with a record of 2-0-1 in those instances.  In 24 career games against the Caps, Pavelski is 9-14-23, plus-7.

Dallas does not employ many rookies – only three among the 21 skaters to play so far this season – but among center Wyatt Johnston, defenseman Nils Lundkvist, and right wing Matej Blumel, Johnston has stood out.  He is the only one of the three to have appeared in all 30 games for the team this season and leads the trio in goals (seven) and points (12).  In fact, his seven goals is tied for third among all rookie forwards, and his 12 points rank tenth in this year’s rookie class to date.  The 23rd overall pick in the 2021 Entry Draft is one of only 11 players in his draft class to appear in NHL games.  He is tied for third in his class in career goals (seven), is seventh in points  (12), and is eighth in ice time per game (14:19).

Johnston came out of the gate on a cold streak, failing to put up any points in any of his first five games.  But since then he has been slowly picking up the pace in his production.  In the seven games in which he posted goals, the Stars are 4-2-1, and they ae 6-2-2 in the ten games in which he recorded points.  He has been more productive in the latest third of his season to date, going 3-3-6, plus-1, in his last ten games, although he does have a three-game streak without a point going into the contest against the Caps.  Johnston does not have a point in his only career appearance against the Caps.

The 2010 Entry Draft turned out one of the strangest classes, especially at the top of the draft, in recent draft history.  Consider Taylor Hall, taken first and on his way to the 800-games played mark in his career, but he has done it playing for five different teams, posting more than 30 goals in a season only once in 13 seasons (39 with New Jersey in 2017-2018, a season in which he won the Hart Trophy, the only year he has ever received any votes for the league MVP award.  Or Nino Niederreiter, taken fifth in that draft with more than 750 games played, but for four different teams and still short of 200 career goals (191) and 400 points (381).  Or Brett Connolly, taken sixth in that draft with 536 games played for five different teams, including the Caps, but not currently employed by an NHL team despite being just 30 years old (he signed with HC Lugano (Switzerland( for this season).  Or Dylan McIlrath, the second defenseman taken but who has played in only 66 games in six NHL seasons for three teams, no games since 2019-2020 with Detroit.  He is a Capital at the moment.

Which brings us to Tyler Seguin.  He was the consolation prize of sorts after the Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft.  Seguin was taken second by Boston and played for three years with the Bruins, posting decent, if not elite numbers (56-65-212, plus-53, in 203 games.  He was traded to Dallas on the Fourth of July 2013 with Ryan Button and Rich Peverley for Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Joseph Morrow and Reilly Smith.  Seguin found a home, now in his tenth year with the Stars, but the trade-off seems to be that he would toil in relative obscurity.

Seguin finished sixth in Hart Trophy voting in his first season in Dallas when he finished 37-47-84, plus-16, in 80 games.  That season started a run of five seasons in six in which he posted at least 30 goals and six straight seasons with at least 70 points, yet he never received a Hart Trophy vote in the five seasons following his sixth-place finish in 2013-2014.  In his last three seasons his production dropped – 43-58-101, minus-23, in 153 games.  Much of that drop in production was the product of a hip injury he sustained after he suffered an injuryto a quadriceps muscle.  The hip injury – a complete tear of his labrum that required surgery to do an extended bone shaving of the hip. Doctors took stem cells from Seguin’s left hip and put it in his right knee to help with the healing of the lateral quad.  He missed 51 games of the 2020-2021 season. He returned to play 81 games last season, going 24-25-49, minus-21, and his production has continued to inch along in that scoring range so far this season (5-17-22, plus-7 in 30 games). Over his last 14 games he is 2-9-11, plus-10, the Stars going 8-3-3 in that stretch.  Seguin is 12-7-19, plus-5, in 28 career games against the Caps.

1.  Dallas punishes opponents on the road with their power play, when they get a chance to deploy it.  At 31.0 percent, they rank first in the league in road power play conversions, but the 2.80 man advantages per game on the road are tied for 25th in the league.

2.  The road penalty kill is almost as effective as the power play.  At 24.5 percent they rank third in the league in road penalty killing efficiency.  But they spend a lot of time killing penalties, the 3.87 shorthanded situations faced per game the fourth-most in the league.

3.  Dallas has remarkable consistency on offense on the road on a period-to-period basis. In 15 road games they scored 18 first period goals, 18 second period goals, and 17 third period goals.  And only Columbus has allowed fewer first period goals (five) than Dallas (six), although the Blue Jackets have played only nine road games to date.

4.  The Stars scored first 12 times in 15 road games, tied for most in the league (with Colorado).  They are just 8-3-1 in those games, their .667 winning percentage tied for 16th in the league (with Pittsburgh).  Dallas did not win any of the three games they trailed first on the road (0-2-1), one of four teams in the league without a win when trailing first.

5.  Close games have not been a feature of road games for the Stars.  Only three of 15 games were decided by one goal, and Dallas lost all of them (0-1-2).  The Stars and Columbus are the only teams without a one-goal win on the road.    On the other hand, Dallas is 7-2 in road games decided by three or more goals, most wins in the league in such games.

1.  The five-game winning streak the Caps bring into this game is their longest since they rolled off a seven-game winning streak in Games 24-30 in March 2021.

2.  Washington trailed in seven of 13 home games going into this contest; their.571 winning percentage (4-3-0) is tied for third-best in the league.

3.  Only two teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations on home ice than the Caps (31) – Carolina (24 times in nine home games) and Arizona (23 times in six home games).  Only St. Louis has faced fewer per game (2.21) than the Caps (2.38).

4.  Of 14 Caps to appear in at least ten of the 13 home games played to date, Garnet Hathaway is the only skater without a point.

5.   Alex Ovechkin has the worst rating of 26 skaters to play for the Caps on home ice this season – minus-6 in 13 games.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Dallas: Jamie Benn

With Jason Robertson seemingly incapable of missing any goal scoring opportunity these days, it is easy to overlook his teammate Jamie Benn, who has “only” 11 goals and 27 points this season (a 30-44-74 scoring pace over 82 games).  Benn is a member of a 2007 Entry Draft class that had a lot of contributions from late round picks.  A fifth-rounder (129th overall) taken by the Stars in that draft, Benn is one of eight skaters taken in the fifth round or later to appear in more than 500 NHL games.  Since then, over 14 seasons, Benn has steadily climbed the all-time franchise rankings in a variety of statistical categories.  He is third in team history in games played (978) and seems to be a lock to become only the second player to dress for 1,000 games for the franchise (Mike Modano played in 1,459 games for the Stars).  He is third in goals (340), just two behind Brian Bellows for second place.  He is third in assists (456) and points (796).  Benn is fifth in power play goals (93) and seventh in power play points (215).  He is third in shorthanded goals (13) and shorthanded points (24).  He is the all-time leader in overtime goals (11) and is second in game-winning goals (52).  Only Sergei Zubov logged more minutes of ice time (19,506) than Benn (17,799).

This season, Benn might be breaking out of a three-year slip in production.  Over his first ten NHL seasons, he topped 20 goals nine times, the only time he missed being in 2012-2013 when he had 12 in 41 games in an abbreviated schedule (lockout).  In nine seasons ending in 2018-2019, he topped 50 points eight times, coming up short only in that 2012-2013 season (33).  But over the three seasons preceding this one he failed to reach 20 goals in all of them, and he failed to reach 50 points, although two of those seasons were cut short due to COVID issues.  He already has 11 goals and 27 points in 30 games this season, which would put him on the good side of 20 goals and 50 points for the first time since 2018-2019.  Benn is 7-9-16, plus-16, in 19 career games against the Caps.

Washington: Nic Dowd

Nic Dowd is having a bit of an odd season.  Through 31 games to date, he is 5-5-10, plus-4.  That is a rate of production consistent with the 10-14-24, plus-10, career best scoring line he posted last season with the Caps.  And his shooting percentage (20.8 percent) is easily his career-best to date (17.0 percent in his first year with the Caps in 2018-2019).  His 23 blocked shots in 31 games would allow him to challenge his career best (53 in 64 games last season), as would his 72 hits in 31 games (145 in 70 games with Los Angeles in 2016-2017.  He has been on ice for only 11 even strength goals against in 31 games, second fewest among Caps forwards appearing in at least ten games (Garnet Hathaway: 10), and his plus-3 goal differential at evens is tied with Hathaway for best among all forwards.

Then there are faceoffs, which had been just about the most reliable part of his game.  In four seasons coming into this one, Dowd ranked 44th of 222 skaters taking at least 500 faceoffs (53.3 percent).  But this season he ranks 84th among 153 skaters taking at least 100 draws (49.0 percent) and has been at 50 percent or better in only 16 of 31 games.  Stranger still, the Caps are just 7-7-2 in those games.  They are 8-5-2 in the 15 games he was under 50 percent. 

But back to his scoring.  As one might expect, getting second or third level scoring from bottom six forwards is often a sign of success, and the Caps are 4-1-0 in the five games in which he has a goal, 7-2-1 in the games in which he has a point.  It is also worth noting that his ice time does not seem to matter much in wins and losses, the Caps going 6-3-4 in the 13 games in which he skated at least 14 minutes, 9-9-0 in the 18 games in which he skated less than 14 minutes.  Dowd is 2-2-4, plus-1, in nine career games against Dallas.

In the end…

There will be a temptation, this being the first game at home after a brief road trip, plus the record-setting performance by Alex Ovechkin in Chicago to climb to within one goal of Gordie Howe for second place all time in goals scored in the NHL, to show ofa bit and try harder to get those two goals for Ovechkin to pass Howe.  That would be the kiss of death against the Dallas Stars.  Tend to business, play a workman-like game, pretend it is another road game, and things should work out for the Caps.

Capitals 3 – Stars 2