Friday, December 16, 2022

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Game 33: Maple Leafs at Capitals, December 17

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Their five-game winning streak broken by the Dallas Stars on Thursday night, the Washington Capitals will try to start another winning streak when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town.  Toronto had a four-game winning streak of their own snapped on Thursday night when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the New York Rangers in the first game of a short two-game road trip that will conclude in Washington.

The Maple Leafs were a mediocre team over their first ten games of the season, going 4-4-2.  But since the calendar flipped to November, they have the best record in the NHL (15-2-4/34 points/.810 points percentage).  Known as an offensive-oriented club, Toronto has been a top-ten scoring offense over their 21-game run (3.52 goals per game/T-9th), but it has been their defense that has been surprisingly sturdy, allowing just 2.05 goals per game, the best scoring defense in the league over that stretch.

Of the 26 skaters to appear for the Leafs over this stretch, 21 of them have on-ice goal differentials in positive territory at even strength.  Leading that group is Michael Bunting.  He was a fourth round draft pick (117th overall) by the Arizona Coyotes in the 2017 Entry Draft.  He did not catch on there, appearing in just 26 games over two seasons, going 11-3-14, minus-1, before leaving as a free agent.  Toronto signed him to a two-year/$1.9 million contract in July 2021, and he has been a bargain.  Last season, his first with Toronto, Bunting was 23-40-63, plus-27, in 79 games.  He finished tied for second among rookies in goals, ranked second in assists, and led all rookies in points.  His plus-27 was second best in his rookie class, and his three first goals in games was tied for second among all rookies.  The 63 points he posted was fifth-most by a Toronto rookie in franchise history.  His scoring rate is a bit off of last year’s pace, but he is still 7-15-22, plus-17, in 31 games.  He has been a more efficient player on the road than at home this season, going 5-7-12, plus-7 in 15 road games with a 21.7 shooting percentage (2-8-10, plus-10, in 16 home games with a 6.5 shooting percentage).  Bunting is 3-0-3, plus-4, in three career games against the Caps.

Over the 21-game stretch, four Leafs posted 20 or more points, a group led by Mitch Marner, who is in the midst of a career season.  Marner had a 23-game points streak snapped on Thursday night in a 3-1 loss in New York to the Rangers, but before that he went 11-21-32, plus-5, in the 23-game scoring streak.  In the context of the entire season, that streak is not all that extraordinary. In 31 games to date, Marner has been held without a point only three times, although two of those instances were on the road (he was held without a point in Vegas in the 3-1 loss to the Golden Knights on October 24th).  While Marner has, to an extent, labored in the shadow of Auston Matthews, he is an elite scorer in his own right.  In 458 games over seven seasons, Marner has never had a season with less than 60 points and has two 90-plus point seasons on his resume while going 150-342-492, plus-76 overall.  The thing about his game this season is the consistent nature of his scoring.  He has not exploded in individual games as some players with high point totals might.  He has nine multi-point games this season, but all of them were two-point efforts (the Leafs were 6-0-3 in those contests).  Marner is 3-9-12, minus-4, in 15 career games against Washington.

If there has been an odd aspect of the Leafs’ 15-2-4 run, it is the revolving door on the blue line.  In those 21 games, ten defensemen dressed for the team, only three – Rasmus Sandin, Justin Holl, and Mark Giordano – appearing in all of them.  Sandin lead the defense in scoring over those 21 games (2-8-10) and is tied for the team lead with a plus-11 rating.  Sandin was a first-round (29th overall) pick of the Maple Leafs in the 2018 Entry Draft, the 13th defenseman taken in a defenseman-dominated first round.  In his first three seasons in the league, Sandin showed little evidence of being a top-end offensive contributor, going 6-22-28, plus-8, in 88 games.  This year, though, he is 2-11-13, plus-9, in 31 games, a slightly better rate of offensive production than his career before this season.  Toronto has yet to lose a game in regulation when Sandin records a point, posting a record of 8-0-2 in those games.  And, Toronto has only one loss in regulation when he skated 20 or more minutes, going 10-1-1 in those games.  Although slightly built (5’11”/183) he uses gritty play to the team’s advantage, the Maple Leafs with a 10-1-4 record when he was credited with three or more hits and 8-0-2 when he recorded two or more blocked shots.  Sandin is 1-2-3, plus-1, in two career games against Washington.

1.  Although Toronto has scored at a productive rate over theie 15-2-4 run, their power play has not been an especially large contributor.  At 23.4 percent over that span, they rank 14th in the league.

2.  he penalty kill has been another story, ranking fifth over their run at 81.4 percent.

3.  The 21-game run has featured seven decisions by three or more goals, Toronto winning all of them, the only club with a perfect record in three-or-more goal games over that stretch.

4.  At the other end, the Maple Leafs have not lost a one-goal game in regulation in their run (5-0-4), one of only four teams to accomplish that feat since November 1st (Carolina and St. Louis are the others).

5.  Toronto scored first 14 times in those 21 games (tied for second-most in the league) and are 11-1-2 in those games.

1.  The loss to Dallas on Thursday night dropped the Caps into a tie for 14th place in the league in points earned on home ice (17, tied with Columbus, although the Blue Jackets have played five more games than the Caps on home ice.

2.  The Caps rank tied for 22nd in the league in scoring offense at home (2.93 goals per game, with St. Louis) and are eighth in the league in scoring defense on home ice (2.64 goals allowed per game).

3. Washington has allowed only 27.6 shots on goal at home, the sixth-fewest shots allowed per game in the league on home ice.

4.  The Caps, who have had a recent history of struggling on faceoffs, could get to 50 percent on home ice with a plus-4 win-loss differential in this game.

5.  Washington need to do a better job when getting out in front early at home.  Their 4-2-1 record when scoring first in games ranks 26th in the league in winning percentage.

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

Toronto: Ilya Samsonov

Well, it looks as if, for the moment, Toronto has found their goaltender.  Who would have guessed at this time last season, when he was tending goal for the Capitals, that it would be Ilya Samsonov.  But there he is, the league leader in goals against average (1.70; minimum: 250 minutes) and save percentage (.939), tied for fourth in shutouts (two), and with a 9-2-0 record in 11 appearances (all starts).  The only time he was relived in a start this season came in a 2-1 win over Boston on November 5th, when he injured his knee defending a penalty shot (unsuccessfully) against Brad Marchand.

But we saw a similar movie here in Washington – last year, as it turns out.  Through his first 11 appearances last season, Samsonov was 9-0-1 (one no-decision), 2.27, .919, with three shutouts.  He ranked 11th in goals against average (minimum: 250 minutes) and was 23rd in save percentage.  The difference this season is that he is less a passenger with Toronto than he seemed at times, even early in the season, with the Caps last season.

Only twice in his 11 starts this season has Samsonov allowed more than two goals, both in losses, and both on the road – three goals on 33 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on October 24th and four goals on 29 shots in a 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on October 29th.  But there is perhaps a key to this game if Samsonov gets the nod.  Of his 11 appearances to date, only three have been on the road, where he is 1-2-0, 2.76, .914.  In his only appearance against the Caps to date, he allowed two goals on 26 shots in a 3-2 win over the Caps on October 13th.

Washington: Dmitry Orlov

In a season dominated by injuries, the absence of Dmitry Orlov for half of the schedule might get lost in the flood.  In the 16 games missed by Orlov the Caps went 8-6-2.  But here is the strange part.  In the 16 games in which he played, the Caps are just 7-7-2.  His absence coincides with those of a number of other players, but that is a startling fact nugget nonetheless.  What has mattered, though, is that the Caps have been successful in those games in which Orlov was on the score sheet, going 4-1-0 when he posted at least one point, 3-6-2 in the 11 games in which he was held without a point.  His contributions on the gritty side of the game have had benefits as well, the Caps going 6-3-1 in the ten games in which he had two or more credited hits and 4-1-0 in the five games in which he recorded two or more blocked shots.

The 16 games missed by Orlov so far this season are unusual on their own.  He has not missed that many games over an entire season since he missed 28 games of the 2013-2014 season.  Five times in seven seasons after that, coming into this season, he played in every game.

So far this season, Orlov has been a less effective presence on home ice than he has been on the road.  At Capital One Arena he is 0-3-3, plus-1, in seven games, while he is 1-4-5, plus-4, in nine road games.  And, all three of those points on home ice were recorded on October 22nd when he had three assists in a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles King.  Orlov is without a point in his last three home games, although he is 1-2-3, plus-2, in his last three games overall.  Orlov is 1-4-5, minus-7, in 22 career games against Toronto.

In the end…

We are getting to the point in the season, given the Caps sixth-place spot in the Metropolitan Division standings, where any long losing streaks are likely to doom their chances to reach the postseason.  That makes winning on home ice, even against a difficult opponent such as Toronto, essential to their maintaining contact with the teams in front of them in the standings.  They will have an incentive of getting revenge on their former teammate in goal for the loss Ilya Samsonov pinned on them in October, but winning has to be the focus more than anything.

Capitals 5 – Maple Leafs 3